Venezuelans pour into streets to mourn Hugo Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela: Hundreds of anguished Venezuelans poured into the streets of downtown Caracas crying, hugging each other and shouting slogans in support of President Hugo Chavezafter learning of his death Tuesday.

Clusters of women with tears streaming down their faces clung to each other and wept near the Miraflores presidential palace. Some wore T-shirts with slogans that read “Go forward commander!”

Nearby, men with grim and somber faces pumped their arms in the air while shouting “Long live Chavez! Long live Chavismo!”

People also gathered outside the military hospital where Chavez died. Soldiers in riot gear stood shoulder to shoulder guarding the complex.

“I feel such big pain I can’t even speak,” said Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old office worker weeping at a street corner. “He was the best thing the country had … I adore him. Let’s hope the country calms down and we can continue the tasks he left us.”

Many people left work and rushed home as shops and offices began to close early and tension gripped the streets in Caracas, capital of a country deeply divided by the socialist programs pursued by the charismatic Chavez.

Cars and buses clogged streets that were passable only by speeding motorcycles. Dozens of extra police officers arrived downtown to help direct traffic and watch the streets.

“I want to go home,” said Maria Lover, a 45-year-old housewife. “People are crazy and get too desperate.”