The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is situated on the northern coast of South America. Home to an estimated population of 29.1 million, it covers around 916,445 square kilometres which includes the Andes mountains and the Amazon Basin Rainforest. Its main export is oil. Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522 but continued resistance led in 1811 to it becoming the first Spanish American country to declare independence. A chequered political history followed which saw dictatorships rise and fall, as well as military coups. The current president is founder of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200, Hugo Chávez.
China hails Chavez as 'good friend' after Venezuelan leader's death
Tributes and a touch of US diplomacy for his people after president loses battle with cancer
China described Hugo Chavez as a "great friend of the Chinese people" yesterday after the Venezuelan president's death plunged the oil-rich country into uncertainty.
Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, who struggled to hold back tears as he announced his mentor's death on Tuesday, said armed forces and police had been deployed "to accompany and protect our people and guarantee the peace".
Venezuela, still deeply divided after an acrimonious election in October, declared a week of national mourning, and a senior minister said a new vote would be called within what were sure to be 30 tense days.
Chavez, known for his leftist policies, sought close ties with China's Communist authorities in a bid to reduce his country's dependence on the US, and Venezuela now sells some 640,000 barrels of oil a day to China.
In turn, Beijing has extended at least US$30 billion in credit to Caracas.
"President Chavez was a great leader of Venezuela as well as a great friend of the Chinese people and has made an important contribution to friendly and co-operative relations between China and Venezuela," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, adding Beijing was willing to consolidate strategic partnership ties with Caracas.
President Hu Jintao and soon-to-be-installed leader Xi Jinping sent personal condolence messages to Maduro after the 58-year-old leader's death from cancer, she added.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Maduro would take over as interim leader pending the next election, declaring: "It is the mandate that comandante President Hugo Chavez gave us."
Venezuela's closest ally, communist Cuba, declared its own mourning period for the leader, while US President Barack Obama - often a target of Chavez's anti-American scorn - was circumspect, describing his passing as a "challenging time".
"As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," Obama said.
Tens of thousands shattered supporters of Chavez paraded his coffin through the streets of the capital yesterday. Many wept as a hearse flanked by soldiers in red berets carried his coffin.
His body will lie in state at a military academy until a memorial service with foreign leaders tomorrow.