Venezuela extends public vacation over energy outage

CARACAS, Venezuela

The government here extended a public holiday for another 24 hours as nationwide power outages continue for a fifth day.

Vice President Jorge Rodriguez said progress is being made on resuming power and told official TV channel, VTV, the holiday would continue Tuesday.

All educational institutions, government and private offices, factories and shopping malls will remain closed, according to a decision by President Nicolas Maduro.

Rodriguez, who is also in charge of the country’s communication, culture and tourism, said there have been five attacks to the electricity system since Thursday, when the outage started. He did not provide additional information on the attacks.

The Latin American nation plunged into darkness with power cuts hitting 21 out of 23 states.

Maduro and his government termed the outage a “sabotage” amid a lingering political crisis in the country.

U.S. backed opposition leader and self-declared interim President Juan Guaido called on Venezuelans to demonstrate to protest against the power cuts during a speech at the National Assembly.

The Assembly, which is not recognized by the government and has no power of sanction, adopted a decree which declared a 30-day “state of national emergency” because of the blackout. That period can be extended.

The decree demands security forces not to intervene in protests, and “instructs” health workers to cooperate with private hospitals to be able to continue treating patients who are affected by the power outage.

Guaido on Sunday addressed a news conference in Caracas and reiterated his call for the military to stop supporting Maduro.

Opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares on social media said 18 people lost their lives in hospitals in the blackout but Health Minister Carlos Alvarado, speaking to VTV, denied the claims.

Local media outlet El Pitazo reported the outage appeared to be the result of a failure at the Simon Bolivar hydroelectric plant also known as the Guri Dam in the southern state of Bolivar.

The Guri Dam is one of the world’s largest hydroelectric stations and the main power supply to Venezuela’s electrical grid.

Venezuela has been rocked by protests since Jan. 10 when Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition.

Tensions flared when Guaido declared himself acting president Jan. 23 — a move supported by the U.S. and many European and Latin American countries.

Turkey, Russia, China, Iran, Bolivia and Mexico have put their weight behind Maduro.

*Writing by Sena Guler

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