Venezuela's government has ordered public workers to work a two-day week in an effort to save energy as a severe power shortage continued to cause havoc.

President Nicolas Maduro had already given most of Venezuela's 2.8 million state employees Fridays off during April and May to cut down on electricity consumption. On Monday, he introduced daily four-hour blackouts

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"From tomorrow, for at least two weeks, we are going to have Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays as non-working days for the public sector," Maduro said on his weekly television programme.

Full salaries would still be paid, he confirmed.

He said the water level behind the nation's largest dam had fallen to near its minimum operating level thanks to a severe drought.

Experts say a lack of planning and maintenance is also to blame.

Water shortages and electricity cuts have added to the hardships of Venezuela's 30 million people, already enduring a brutal recession, shortages of basic goods from milk to medicines, soaring prices, and long lines at shops.

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Maduro, 53, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez in 2013 and is facing an opposition push to remove him by referendum, appealed for understanding.

"The Guri has virtually become a desert. With all these measures, we are going to save it," he said, adding that the daily drop in the water level had slowed to 10cm from 20cm.

After months of unscheduled power cuts, the government began programmed electricity rationing this week across most of Venezuela, except the capital Caracas, prompting sporadic protests in some cities.

Maduro has also changed the clocks so there is half an hour more daylight in the evening, urged women to reduce use of appliances such as hairdryers, and ordered malls to provide their own generators.

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Critics have derided Maduro for giving state employees days off, arguing it would hurt national productivity and was unlikely to save electricity because people would go home and turn on appliances there instead.

"Maduro says that 'We in government don't stop working for a second'. Of course. Except for Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays!" Leonardo Padron, a columnist for the pro-opposition El Nacional newspaper, said on Twitter.

Officials say the El Nino weather phenomenon is responsible for Venezuela's electricity woes. But critics accuse the government of inadequate investment, corruption, inefficiency and failure to diversify energy sources.

Source: Agencies