chaves_1President Chávez, the socialist leader who ruled Venezuela for the past 14 years, has died aged 58, his chosen successor said last night. Nicolás Maduro, the Vice President, ended months of speculation about Mr Chávez, who had fought cancer for two years and returned from treatment in Cuba last month. 

Hours before his announcement, Mr Maduro appeared on state TV confirming that Mr Chávez’s condition had deteriorated and asked the nation to pray for him. He stunned observers by accusing the country’s enemies of poisoning Mr Chávez.

Ernesto Villegas, the Information Minister, earlier called on the President’s supporters, including thousands of heavily-armed militiamen, to be “on a war footing” after the deterioration of their leader’s health.

Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader, accused Mr Maduro of being a liar for maintaining the pretence for several months that the President was continuing to carry out his duties from a military hospital bed.

According to the Venezuelan constitution, an election ought to be held within 30 days.

Mr Maduro said that Venezuela’s army and police were being deployed “at this very moment to accompany and protect our people and guarantee the peace”.

Venezuela’s military chiefs appeared live on state TV shortly afterwards to pledge their loyalty to Mr Maduro, who Mr Chavez had named as his preferred successor. Admiral Diego Molero appealed for “unity, tranquility and understanding” among Venezuelans.

Mr Chávez, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, has not been seen in public for nearly three months since having surgery in Cuba in December.

He was pictured in hospital with his daughters on February 14. Last week Mr Maduro said that the president had begun receiving chemotherapy around the end of January.

On Monday, he reported that President had a severe new respiratory infection and was now desperately “clinging to life”.

As speculation mounted about Mr Chávez’s deteriorating health, Mr Maduro said in a televised address that “behind all of [the plots] are the enemies of the fatherland.”

He added that someday there would be “scientific proof” that Mr Chávez was poisoned. He also called Venezuela’s political right-wing an “oligarchy” and an “enemy of the nation.”

Separately, the country’s information ministry said that David Del Monaco, an Air Force attaché for the US Embassy, had been expelled today “for being implicated in conspiratorial plan”.

Mr Maduro, Mr Chávez’s chosen successor, also fuelled expectations that the government was about to prepare a statement about Mr Chavez’s future by saying that these were “the most difficult moments we have experienced” regarding the President’s health.

Venezuela, the fourth-largest supplier of foreign oil to the US, has been thrown into turmoil by the uncertainty surrounding Mr Chávez’s poor health.

As speculation about his health mounts, opposition leaders are this week stepping up their attacks on him. Henriques Capriles, who lost to Mr Chávez last October’s presidential election, swung into action criticizing the Chávez regime as “the most corrupt in Venezuelan history.”

Mr Capriles, the youthful governor of the Venezuelan state of Miranda, is expected to again be the opposition’s candidate, facing Mr Maduro.

In preparation of such a battle Mr Maduro has been commandeering all broadcast channels, Chávez-style, to tout the “revolution” and vilify potential opponents.

In the last few days Mr Maduro has hit out at Mr Capriles, calling him the “decadent prince of the parasitical bourgeoisie” and accusing him of using a trip to the United States at the weekend to conspire against the Venezuelan government.

Writing on his Twitter account, Mr Capriles hit back, accusing Mr Maduro, of being a “liar” for claiming in the last few days that the President was continuing to carry out his presidential duties from a military hospital bed. “Show a photo of Sr. Presidente” giving instructions, signing papers and having meetings, Mr Capriles demanded.

Over the past several days, opposition demonstrations by university students carrying banners saying “tell the truth,” have also increased, demanding that Mr Chávez appear and be sworn in for the 2013-2019 term of office for which he was reelected last year.     ( courtesy the timesUK)

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