Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Dies
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has died at the age of 58 after losing his long battle with cancer.
The country's vice president, Nicolas Maduro, announced the death in a national television broadcast.
He said Chavez died at 4.25 pm local time "after battling a tough illness for nearly two years".
The fiery populist leader's condition had been said to be deteriorating in recent days.
He had been undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba on and off since June 2011 - when he was first diagnosed with the illness.
The announcement came just hours after Mr Maduro announced the government had expelled two US diplomats from the country.
He said "we have no doubt" that Chavez's illness was induced by foul play by "the historical enemies of our homeland".
The government announced late Monday that Chavez's condition was "very delicate" due to a "new, severe" respiratory infection.
Chevez had not been seen in public or heard since undergoing a fourth round of surgery in Cuba on December 11 in the pelvic area
The government said he returned home on February 18, and had been confined to Caracas' military hospital ever since.
During more than 14 years in office, Chavez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally.
He declared a socialist revolution in Venezuela, crusaded against US influence, championed a leftist revival across Latin America, and over time, gradually placed all state institutions under his personal control.
But the former army paratrooper commander, who rose to fame by launching a failed 1992 coup, never groomed a successor.
His death sets up a snap presidential election after his illness prevented him from taking the oath of office when he was re-elected last year.
Under the constitution, the head of Congress, Diosdado Cabello, would assume the interim presidency.
However, Mr Maduro is Chavez's self-annointed successor and has been holding the reigns since the president's health took a turn for the worse.
The man Chavez defeated in October's presidential elections, Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, is expected to represent the opposition in any new national polls.