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Venezuela Mourns Chavez, World Leaders React To His Death

Venezuelans are mourning the death of Hugo Chavez as world leaders react to the passing of the outspoken South American leader.

The 58-year-old Chavez died on March 5 after a two-year battle with cancer. He had led Venezuela for 14 years.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, his chosen successor, vowed to uphold Chavez's legacy.

"We're going to miss him until the last day of our lives, but we carry on his legacy here and we will carry it on with strength," Maduro said. "May our people know that the democratic, revolutionary, antiimperialist, and socialist legacy of our Comandante is carried on with firmness, with absolute loyalty."

Chavez was also one of Latin America's most flamboyant leftist leaders and a staunch critic of U.S. "imperialism."

Chavez's regional allies mourned his death as a "great loss."

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Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, one of his closest allies, paid an emotional tribute.

"In honor of the departure of that dear friend of Ecuador, of Latin America, the president of the brother Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela [Hugo Chavez], Ecuador will declare three days of national mourning," Correa said. "Wherever you are, beloved Hugo, our commitment, today more than ever, is not to take even one step backwards in fulfilling your dreams that are our shared dreams -- the dream of that free, happy, dignified, sovereign Venezuela; of that equitable, just Ecuador, of that Bolivia, of that Nicaragua, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, of that Great Fatherland as our freedom fighters dreamed it. From that place where you are, beloved Comandante, to victory, always!"

The Cuban government also declared three days of national mourning.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed American support for the Venezuelan people and Washington's interest in "developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Chavez as an "uncommon and strong man" who had greatly contributed to Russia-Venezuela relations.

Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Chavez had fallen "martyr" to a "suspect illness."

China described him as "a great friend."

Chavez underwent four operations in Cuba for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in mid-2011.

His last surgery was on December 11 and he had not been seen in public since.

On March 5, Maduro announced the government had expelled two U.S. diplomats from the country and suggested the United States was somehow to blame for Chavez's death. Washington immediately rejected the charges as "absurd."

Venezuela has declared seven days of mourning, and Chavez's body will lie in state until his funeral on March 8.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, will lead the country as interim president until new elections, to be called within 30 days.

Chavez's illness prevented him from taking the oath of office after he was reelected for a fourth term in October.

Maduro will likely face off in the election against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, whom Chavez defeated in October's election.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters