Maduro replaces electricity minister over power cuts

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Xinhua/Presidencia de Venezuela

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro replaced his electricity minister on Monday in a move to address a series of blackouts plaguing the country, while opposition leader Juan Guaido called on supporters to continue taking to the streets.

In an address on state television, Mr Maduro said he named Igor Gavidia, a 65-year-old electrical engineer who was previously president of state power generator Electrificacion del Caroni, to replace Electricity Minister Luis Motta.

The change came as Mr Maduro reiterated plans for a 30-day “load administration” plan, which he first mentioned last week and which Venezuelans widely assume will be a way to ration electricity.

“Some changes are needed to strengthen, take responsibility for, and develop the new phase of this plan,” Mr Maduro said.

Oil-rich Venezuela was rocked by a debilitating blackout on March 7, which dragged on for nearly a week in some parts of the country. Power has been intermittent since another blackout on March 25, and growing water shortages have aggravated the sense of crisis in a country where food and medicine are already scarce with an economy racked by hyperinflation.

Demonstrators took to the streets throughout Caracas on Sunday and Monday, with small groups of people blocking roads to demand water. On Sunday night, police fired gunshots after some residents in Caracas set up burning barricades, according to Reuters witnesses.

Mr Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who in January invoked the country’s constitution to assume an interim presidency in a challenge to Mr Maduro’s legitimacy, said it was “very clear that this regime has no solution to the crisis.”

“Every time the power goes out, or we do not have water, or we do not have gas, guess what we are going to do?” he said at an earlier rally at the country’s Catholic University. “We are going to protest, we are going to make demands, we are going to take to the streets of Venezuela, because it is our right.”

Mr Guaido has been recognised by most Western and South American countries as the OPEC nation’s rightful leader on the grounds that Mr Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Power outages over the weekend prompted Venezuela’s main oil terminal, Jose, to halt operations including crude exports, the lifeblood of the country’s economy. It was the third time in a month that the port, which only restarted applications last Friday following last Monday’s blackout, had stopped operations due to lack of electricity.

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