SEVEN days of national mourning have been declared in Venezuela after the death of President Hugo Chavez.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, voice breaking and tears running down his face, appeared on national television to announce that Mr Chavez had died “after battling hard against an illness over nearly two years”.
He did not say what had killed the 58-year-old, although the government had announced the previous night that a severe new respiratory infection had severely weakened him.
A few hours later, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua confirmed one of Mr Chavez’s final wishes.
Mr Maduro would be interim president and then be the ruling party’s candidate to carry on Mr Chavez’s populist “revolution” in elections to be called within 30 days.
Mr Maduro called on Venezuelans to be “dignified heirs of the giant man” that Mr Chavez was.
“Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love. Love, peace and discipline.”
The government declared seven days of mourning and closed all schools and universities until next Monday.
All across downtown Caracas, shops and restaurants began to close and Venezuelans headed for home, some even breaking into a run.
Many people looked incredulous or anguished.