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Venezuela marks anniversary of Chavez death, cuts ties with Panama

President Nicolas Maduro has announced a break in ties with Panama on the anniversary of Hugo Chavez's death. Panama had called for an Organization of American States meeting on the unrest in Venezuela.

Nicolas Maduro attended a major military parade in the capital Caracas on Wednesday, marking the one-year anniversary of the death of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez.

Soldiers fired a cannon salvo at Chavez's time of death, 4:25 p.m. local time (2255 UTC), from the former military barracks that's home to the former president's marble tomb.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, from left, Operational Strategic Commander Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, Bolivia's President Evo Morales and Cuba's President Raul Castro applaud during a military parade commemorating the one year anniversary of the death of Venezuela's former President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (Photo via AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Evo Morales and Raul Castro attended the ceremony alongside Maduro

Maduro, joined by regional allies like Bolivian President Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Cuba's Raul Castro, used his keynote address to announce a halt in diplomatic ties with Panama. Panama had called for the Washington-based Organization of American States to hold a meeting about the street protests against Maduro's government.

"Nobody will conspire with impunity to ask for an intervention against our fatherland. Enough!" Maduro told the sympathetic crowd who on Wednesday outnumbered anti-government protesters in the wealthy east of Caracas.

At least 18 people have been killed in almost-daily protests in Venezuela since February, although analysts suggest that the opposition movement is unlikely to topple Chavez's hand-picked successor. Maduro, 51, has described the protests as a US-backed plot led by "fascists."

Revolution still 'standing, victorious'

Maduro beat challenger Henrique Capriles by an official margin of just 1.5 percent in snap elections last April following Chavez's death; Capriles disputed the results.

Hugo Chavez, who first sought power in a failed 1992 coup, was Venezuelan president for 14 years. The leftist leader, a staunch critic of the US, retains huge popularity among the country's working classes. Policies like nationalizations and price and currency controls won rather less support with wealthier Venezuelans and the international community. Chavez lost his battle with cancer on March 5, 2013, at the age of 58.

Maduro said the anniversary was also special because it disproved assertions that Venezuela's modern socialist movement would crumble after the death of its charismatic leader.

"But here is the revolution one year after the commander's departure, standing, victorious, deployed for battle, building a socialism that is Bolivarian, Christian and Chavista," Maduro, who often refers to Chavez's death as his "physical departure," said.

Venezuelan national television on Wednesday aired the premiere of a documentary by US film-maker Oliver Stone called "My Friend Hugo."

msh/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)