CARACAS, Venezuela —
Across downtown Caracas, shops and restaurants began closing and Venezuelans hustled for home, some even breaking into a run when the news was announced. Many looked anguished and incredulous.
"I feel a sorrow so big I can't speak," said Yamilina Barrios, a 39-year-old clerk who works in the Industry Ministry, her face covered in tears. "He was the best this country had."
Others wished Chavez's departure had come through the ballot box.
Carlos Quijada, a 38-year-old economist, said that "now there is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen."
He said a peaceful transition depends on the government. "If it behaves democratically we should not have many problems," Quijada said.
Like most Venezuelans, he said his big concern is ending violent crime that afflicts all strata of society, from the poor Chavez wooed with state largesse to the economic elite at the core of the political opposition.
Venezuela has the world's second-highest murder rate after Honduras: 56 people for every 100,000 according to government figures, which nongovernmental groups say are understated.
Late Tuesday, the armed forces chief, Gen. Wilmer Barrientos, reported "complete calm" in the country.
But there had been several incidents of political violence.
In one, a group of masked, helmeted men on motorcycles, some brandishing revolvers, attacked about 40 students who had been protesting for more than a week near the Supreme Court building to demand the government give more information about Chavez's health.
The attackers, who didn't wear clothing identifying any political allegiance, burned the students' tents and scattered their food just minutes after Chavez's death was announced.
"They burned everything we had," said student leader Gaby Arellano. She said she saw four of the attackers with pistols but none fired a shot.