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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez, the fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela, crusaded against U.S. influence and championed a leftist revival across Latin America, died Tuesday at age 58 after a nearly two-year bout with cancer.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast. He said Chavez died at 4:25 p.m. local time.
During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally. He polarized Venezuelans with his confrontational and domineering style, yet was also a masterful communicator and strategist who tapped into Venezuelan nationalism to win broad support, particularly among the poor.
Chavez repeatedly proved himself a political survivor. As an army paratroop commander, he led a failed coup in 1992, then was pardoned and elected president in 1998. He survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election two more times.
The burly president electrified crowds with his booming voice, often wearing the bright red of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela or the fatigues and red beret of his army days. Before his struggle with cancer, he appeared on television almost daily, talking for hours at a time and often breaking into song of philosophical discourse.
Chavez used his country’s vast oil wealth to launch social programs that include state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. Poverty declined during Chavez’s presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but critics said he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country’s economy.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Venezuela accuses opposition of plotting coup, 7 dead
Venezuelan President-elect Nicolas Maduro accused the opposition of planning a coup against him after seven government supporters were killed in clashes over his disputed election victory.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles wants a full recount of votes from Sunday’s election after official results showed a narrow victory for Maduro, who is late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor.
Opposition demonstrations outside electoral authority offices around the country passed off peacefully on Tuesday, in contrast to Monday night when youths in Caracas and other cities blocked streets, burned tires and fought with police.
The authorities said the seven deaths included two people shot by opposition sympathizers while celebrating Maduro’s win in a middle-class area of the capital, and one person killed in an attack on a government-run clinic.
“This is the responsibility of those who have called for violence, who have ignored the constitution and the institutions,” a furious Maduro said in a speech to the nation.
“Their plan is a coup d’etat.”
Officials also said more than 60 people had been injured, including one woman whom protesters tried to burn alive, and 170 people were arrested.
Maduro said he would not allow an opposition march that had been planned for Wednesday in Caracas.
Capriles later called off the rally, accusing the government of plotting to “infiltrate” the gathering to cause violence, and then blame it on the opposition.
The opposition has not responded to specific allegations relating to the deaths, but Capriles has repeatedly called for only peaceful demonstrations and said that the government was responsible for violence by denying the call for an recount.
The prospect of prolonged instability in the OPEC nation with the world’s largest oil reserves has unnerved markets.
Venezuela’s volatile and highly traded debt has tumbled on the dispute and unrest, with the benchmark 2027 bond off more than 3.0 percent on Tuesday.
A continuation of violent protests, despite Capriles’ entreaties, could damage the opposition’s credibility.
Maduro has played up attacks by rock-throwing protesters on popular government programs such as clinics staffed by Cuban doctors and subsidized state-run supermarkets, saying they prove Capriles wants to scrap Chavez-era social welfare programs.
That accusation was a principal plank of Maduro’s campaign.
State TV has played images of burning buildings and masked demonstrators, along with footage of a failed 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez but led many Venezuelans to question the opposition’s democratic credentials.
Chavez back then was toppled from power for 48 hours but bounced back quickly, purged critics inside the armed forces and stepped up the pace of his socialist policies.
The election was triggered by the death of Chavez last month after a two-year battle with cancer. He named Maduro as his successor before he died, and his protege won the election with 50.8 percent of the vote against Capriles’ 49.0 percent.
Maduro, who had initially said he was open to a recount, called on his supporters to demonstrate all week. The National Electoral Council (CNE) has refused to conduct a recount.