Venezuela mourns Chavez

Venezuela mourns ChavezCaracas, March 7 - Venezuelans are mourning the death of president Hugo Chavez while government officials make preparations for his funeral and succession.

The armed forces fired a 21-gun salute to Chavez at 8 a. m. and announced that a cannon would be fired once an hour until the late president was buried Friday.

The order for the continuous salute was given by Defense Minister Adm. Diego Molero, armed forces strategic command chief Gen. Wilmer Barrientos said.

"This is one of the top honours for a head of state," the general told VTV.

The 58-year-old Chavez died Tuesday after battling cancer for nearly two years.

Chavez's death was announced by a tearful Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who will serve as interim president.

Elections will be held within 30 days and Maduro is expected to be the candidate of the governing Venezuelan United Socialist Party.

The Venezuelan leader's death made headlines around the world and his funeral is expected to be attended by several world leaders.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Bolivian President Evo Morales have already arrived in Caracas, while other leaders are expected to arrive Thursday, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Wednesday.

Chavez had undergone four operations, as well as courses of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, since first being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011.

The leftist president spent more than two months in Cuba due to complications that followed his Dec 11 cancer surgery in Havana. (IANS)