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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Hugo Chavez was freed by his military captors and returned to reclaim the Venezuelan presidency Sunday, greeting a cheering throng of supporters as he stepped out of a helicopter, smiled and raised a fist in triumph.

Hundreds of people outside the palace and thousands in the street beyond began singing the Venezuelan national anthem.

Chavez, who was ousted by the military on Friday, arrived at the Miraflores presidential palace shortly after 3 a.m. in a dramatic restoration of power following the resignation of Pedro Carmona, who resigned amid violent protests after just one day in office as interim president.

Chavez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello, had declared himself acting president until Chavez's return from military custody.

Chavez's family, supporters and former government officials insisted he never resigned as president, as Carmona and Venezuela's high command have claimed.

``Today we are celebrating a new democracy,'' said one man who took a microphone to greet Chavez.

The Organization of American States was sending a delegation to Venezuela to assess the situation. Chavez is a former army paratrooper who led a failed 1992 coup but was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty platform. His term was to end in 2006.

Chavez's attorney general, Isaias Rodriguez, told Carmona's ministers they were under arrest pending possible charges.

``They must take responsibility. They will be put on trial with all their rights, but they will be put on trial,'' Cabello said. Some military officials also would be tried for military rebellion, he said.

Tens of thousands of people surrounded the presidential palace Sunday after news of Carmona's resignation. They set off powerful fireworks as they waited for Chavez's anticipated return from military custody.

``Chavez is coming! Chavez is coming!'' said Dario Fereira, an unemployed man wearing a tattered shirt.