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Originally published Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 3:12 PM

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Chavez widely mourned, but some hope change on way

Some marked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death with tears; others with cheers. There was deep mourning in Latin America, condolences from Europe and Asia and from Iran's president, predictions of great works in the afterlife.

Associated Press

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HAVANA, Cuba —

Some marked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death with tears; others with cheers. There was deep mourning in Latin America, condolences from Europe and Asia and from Iran's president, predictions of great works in the afterlife.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, focused on "a new chapter" for Venezuela, following 14 years in which Chavez cast himself as bulwark against American domination.

Chavez, who died Tuesday, was seen as a hero by some for his socialist programs, his anti-U.S. rhetoric and gifts of cut-rate oil. Others considered him a bully who repressed his opponents.

A teary-eyed Bolivian President Evo Morales, one of Chavez's closest allies and most loyal disciples, declared that "Chavez is more alive than ever."

"Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation," Morales said Tuesday in a televised speech. "Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chavez will always be with us, accompanying us."

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who steps down this month, and his replacement, Xi Jinping, sent condolence letters to Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the interim president ahead of new elections.

"President Chavez was a great leader of Venezuela and a good friend to the Chinese people," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily media briefing. "He made significant contributions to the friendly cooperative relationship between China and Venezuela."

In its quest to secure resources for its fast-growing economy over the past decade, China has forged a useful friendship with Chavez centered on oil. Tens of billions of dollars in Chinese loans, repayable in oil, helped fund social programs and consumer goods giveaways that made Chavez popular. His anti-American policies and posturing was also looked upon positively by some in Beijing, though Chinese leaders were careful not to show public support.

In Cuba, President Raul Castro's government declared two days of national mourning and ordered the flag to fly at half-staff.

"It is with deep and excruciating sorrow that our people and the revolutionary government have learned of President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias' decease," it said in a statement read on the nightly state TV newscast. "The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons."

Some islanders worried that the loss of the country's No. 1 ally, who has sent billions of dollars of oil to Cuba at preferential terms, could have a negative ripple effect there.

"It's a very tough blow. ... Now I wonder, what is to become of us?" said Maite Sierra, a 72-year-old Havana resident.

"It's troubling what could come now, first for Venezuela but also for Cuba," said Sergio Duran, a Havana resident. "Everything will depend on what happens in Venezuela, but in any case it will never be the same as with Chavez, even if Chavez's party wins" in upcoming elections.

In the United States, where relations with Venezuela were strained under Chavez, President Barack Obama issued a statement reaffirming Washington's support for the "Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."

"As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights," the statement read.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, like Chavez a frequent U.S. adversary, announced a day of mourning and compared Chavez to a saint, saying he will "return on resurrection day."

Ahmadinejad said he has "no doubt Chavez will return to Earth together with Jesus and the perfect" Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure of Shiite's Muslims, and help the two "establish peace, justice and kindness" in the world. He said he believes something "suspicious" caused the cancer that killed Chavez.

Republican U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida called Chavez's death "an opportunity for democracy in Venezuela."

Some of the estimated 189,219 Venezuelan immigrants living in the United States - about half of them in Florida - turned out cheering and waving their country's flag and expressed hope Tuesday that change would come to their homeland.

"We are not celebrating death," Ana San Jorge, 37, said amid a jubilant crowd in the Miami suburb of Doral. "We are celebrating the opening of a new door, of hope and change."

Wearing caps and T-shirts in the Venezuelan colors of yellow, blue and red, many expressed cautious optimism and concern.

"Although we might all be united here celebrating today, we don't know what the future holds," said Francisco Gamez, 18, at El Arepazo, a popular Venezuelan restaurant in Doral.

Several U.S. allies offered praise for Chavez, though some, like France's Socialist President Francois Hollande, noted that "not everyone shared" his political views.

In a statement, Hollande, who made social and economic justice a pillar of his campaign for France's presidency last year, praised Chavez' "undeniable will to fight for justice and development."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement that Chavez's death was "a heavy blow," but also said Venezuela would move on to "new times."

"Venezuela has great potential, and democracy and freedom are the right paths to realize this potential," Westerwelle said.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez declared three days of mourning nationwide. She and President Jose Mujica of neighboring Uruguay prepared to travel to Venezuela for the funeral.

In Nicaragua, a nation that broadly benefited from Venezuelan cut-rate oil, Rosario Murillo, the wife and spokeswoman of President Daniel Ortega, said Chavez is "one of the dead who never die."

"We are all Chavez," she said in televised comments.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter released a statement saying Chavez "will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments."

"We came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalized," Carter wrote. "Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chavez's commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen."

At the United Nations, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the death a tragedy.

"He was a great politician for his country, Latin America and the world. He played a very important role in the development of relations between Venezuela and Russia, so we feel very badly about it," Churkin said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sent condolences to Venezuela and the family of Chavez, who he said "left a lasting impression on the country and more widely" during his 14 years as president.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered condolences to Venezuela's people and said he hopes Chavez's death brings hope of a better future.

"At this key juncture, I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights," Harper said in a statement.

A wistful Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador and another of Chavez's closest allies, predicted Chavez would have a lasting influence. "We have lost a revolutionary, but millions of us remain inspired."

For good or ill, Chavez's influence was felt across Latin America. Alfonso Astorga, 65, a math teacher, was holding back tears as he walked into a store in a wealthy neighborhood of Santiago, Chile.

"He was an example of courage, struggle and passion for Latin America's integration," Astorga said. "The world loses a great man."

In Asia, people felt a sense of loss in countries including Vietnam. "Chavez had a very strong character," civil servant Nguyen Van Ngoc said in Hanoi. "The United States tried to exert influence in Latin America, but it couldn't do anything to countries like Venezuela and Cuba."

China's Internet, its freest court of public opinion, crackled with praise for Chavez for standing up to the U.S. and for his socialist policies.

"Chavez and the `21st century socialism' he advocated was a big bright spot after drastic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe sunk the world socialist movement in a low ebb, and he was known as an `anti-American standard-bearer," Zhu Jidong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' World Socialism Research Center wrote on his feed on Sina Corporation's Twitter-like microblog service. "Mourn this great fighter."

There was no shortage of emotional farewells to a socialist hero who some feel rivaled the revolutionaries of the 1960s.

Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez, whose ode to revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara became famous, used the song's title words to bid farewell to Chavez on his blog.

"Hasta siempre, comandante," he wrote, Spanish for "Farewell forever, commander."

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Christine Armario reported from Miami. Ron Depasquale at the United Nations, Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, Angela Charlton in Paris, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Minh V. Tran in Hanoi, Vietnam, Rob Gillies in Toronto and AP researcher Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Follow Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter-Orsi

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