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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dies

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Story highlights

Official: Maduro will temporarily assume the presidency until elections are held

A state funeral for Chavez will be held Friday, Venezuela's foreign minister says

Venezuela's defense minister says troops are deploying to ensure safety

"We must unite now more than ever," Venezuela's vice president says

CNN —  

A deeply divided Venezuela is mourning its late leader and preparing to pick a new president to replace him.

Venezuelan officials called for peace and unity after President Hugo Chavez’s death on Tuesday, emphasizing in state television broadcasts that all branches of the government and the military were standing together.

Elections will be held in 30 days, and Vice President Nicolas Maduro will assume the presidency in the interim, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said in an interview broadcast on state-run VTV.

Tearing up as he announced Chavez’s death after a long battle with cancer, Maduro called on Venezuelans to remain respectful.

“We must unite now more than ever,” Maduro said.

Henrique Capriles Radonski, a former presidential candidate and opposition leader, said Venezuelans should come together.

“This is not the time for difference,” he said. “It is the time for unity. It is the time for peace.”

Supporters of Chavez poured into a Caracas square soon after news of his death spread. Some wept openly. Others waved flags and held up pictures of the late president.

There were no reports of major violence, but there was palpable tension in the streets, as some Venezuelans heading home from work tried to steer clear of Chavez’s fervent supporters.

Venezuela’s military is in a “process of deploying … to ensure the safety of all Venezuelans” and to support the country’s constitution in the wake of Chavez’s death, said Adm. Diego Molero, Venezuela’s defense minister.

iReport: Share your thoughts on the death of the Venezuelan president

Venezuela prepares for funeral, elections

Venezuela’s government has declared seven days of national mourning, Jaua said. At Venezuelan embassies around the world Tuesday, flags were flying at half mast.

Chavez’s remains will be taken to a military academy in Caracas on Wednesday, Jaua said. There he will lie in state for three days. His state funeral will be held there on Friday morning, Jaua said.

The announcement of Chavez’s death came hours after Maduro met with the country’s top political and military leaders about Chavez’s worsening health condition and suggested someone may have deliberately infected Chavez with cancer.

Chavez first announced his cancer diagnosis in June 2011, but the government never revealed details about his prognosis or specified what kind of cancer he had

Shortly before his last trip to Cuba for cancer surgery in December, Chavez tapped Maduro as the man he wanted to replace him.