March 18, 2019
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Caracas says power 100 pct. restored, US says Maduro has upped repression

Caracas, Mar 13 (efe-epa).- Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Wednesday that electric service has been 100 percent restored nationwide after the massive power blackout that affected much of the country starting late last week, and he added that work activities has resumed after being suspended since last Friday.

"Today, electric energy service is 100 percent ... restored on the national level," Rodriguez said after acknowledging that there are still some areas where "local sabotage" of the electric grid is still being attended to.

On state-run VTV television, the minister said that school classes will remain suspended for another 24 hours but work in both the public and private sectors will resume on Thursday after being suspended for four days due to the blackout.

He also announced that new military exercises - a regular occurrence in Venezuela - will be held this weekend as a "comprehensive action for the protection of the people and the nation's strategic services."

The maneuvers will be "directed at ... comprehensive protection of our entire National Electric System and our water system," Rodriguez said, reiterating the government's accusation that the United States and the internal Venezuela opposition were behind the blackout, which hit last Thursday evening.

In the exercises, the entire Venezuelan military will be deployed "around the 114 electric energy distribution stations" in the oil-rich country "to undertake a strategic process of protection" of those facilities.

The Central University of Venezuela (UCV) on Wednesday, however, refuted the Nicolas Maduro government's thesis that the massive blackout was due to sabotage, instead blaming a failure in the transmission lines or in the power generation facilities.

The UCV's engineering department concluded in a report dated Tuesday that the blackout occurred due to a fire that affected three transmission lines and took the Guri hydroelectric facility - Venezuela's most important such plant - offline.

Maduro had claimed that a "cyber-attack" on the Guri installation combined with "electromagnetic" sabotage had affected the transmission lines and the country's electricity infrastructure.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the US government on Wednesday criticized Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran and Russia for serious human rights violations in its yearly human rights report.

The annual report on human rights for 2018 released by the US State Department serves as a guide for the US Congress when lawmakers determine how much foreign aid to provide to various nations, and the Donald Trump administration has suggested that it could take it into account when deciding whether or not to impose sanctions.

In the document, the US says that the Venezuelan government increased its repression after the failed drone attack on Maduro and cited as an example the arrest of lawmaker Juan Requesens, whom the regime has accused of being involved in the attack.

In New York, the United Nations on Wednesday offered to increase its aid to Venezuela to respond to the "emergency situation" resulting from the massive blackout that hit the South American nation.

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the UN team currently in Venezuela is in contact with local officials on the matter.

Dujarric said at his daily press conference that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is very concerned about the humanitarian impact of the blackout and is closely monitoring the situation.

He added that the international body was also concerned about the reports of looting and violence in parts of Venezuela.

China also said on Wednesday that it was ready to provide "aid and technical assistance" to the Venezuelan government in the wake of the power outage.

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