Venezuelan gov't announces death of Hugo Chavez

Caracas, Mar 5 (EFE).- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died here Tuesday after battling cancer for nearly two years, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said.

"At 4:25 p.m. local time today, March 5, comandante President Hugo Chavez Frias died," a visibly upset Maduro said on national television.

He said that after meeting in the morning with the country's top political and military leadership they went to the Hospital Militar in Caracas - the country's main military hospital - to "follow the ... health" of Chavez and received the "hardest and most tragic news that we could communicate to our people."

"To his mother, to his father - Elena, Don Hugo de los Reyes - to his siblings, to his daughters, to his grandchildren, and all our people we communicate our pain and our solidarity," the vice president said.

Venezuela's national police and armed forces are "deploying to accompany and protect" the people, Maduro said.

"In this immense pain of this historic tragedy that today touches our homeland we call on all our compatriots, men and women of all ages, to be the watchmen of peace," he said.

The 58-year-old 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.

Maduro announced earlier Tuesday the expulsion of the air attache at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas for "proposing destabilizing projects" to members of Venezuela's armed forces.

Col. David del Monaco was given 24 hours to leave the country, the vice president said, while Foreign Minister Elias Jaua announced later that the attache's assistant, an officer named Kostal, was also ordered to leave.

The vice president also suggested that foul play played a role in Chavez's illness and said a scientific commission would be appointed to investigate.

While Maduro spoke only of Venezuela's "historic enemies" and did not mention any country by name, a U.S. State Department said it was "absurd" to imply that Washington had anything to do with Chavez's illness.