Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has died after a long battle with cancer, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday.
In a national broadcast, Maduro said Chavez died Tuesday at 4:25 p.m. (3:55 p.m. ET).
Flanked by Cabinet ministers, Maduro teared up as he announced the news.
"We must unite now more than ever," he said, calling on Venezuelans to remain peaceful and respectful.
In the coming hours, Maduro said, plans for Chavez's funeral would be announced.
He did not specify when elections would be held.
"Our people can count on having a government of men and women committed to protecting them," Maduro said.
The announcement came hours after Maduro met with the country's top political and military leaders about Chavez's worsening health condition and suggested someone may have deliberately infected Chavez with cancer.
Venezuela's defense minister echoed Maduro's calls for unity and peace.
Adm. Diego Molero said Venezuela's military is in a "process of deploying … to ensure the safety of all Venezuelans" and support the country's constitution in the wake of Chavez's death.
Molero pledged support to Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, two top officials who were close allies of the Venezuelan president.
Word of Chavez's death drew swift expressions of sorrow and solidarity from regional allies.
"The national government expresses its solidarity in light of this irreparable loss that puts the Venezuelan people and all the region in mourning and at the same time sends its heartfelt condolences to the family of the late champion of Latin America," Ecuador's foreign ministry said in a statement.