Venezuela halts rolling blackouts
Electricity minister fired as Chavez orders indefinite suspension of power cuts in Caracas.
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2010 08:58 GMT
Critics of Chavez accuse him of failing to complete power upgrades despite large oil earnings [EPA]

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president, has indefinitely suspended rolling blackouts in the country's capital, Caracas, just a day after they began.

Chavez has also dismissed the electricity minister, Angel Rodriguez, saying he was responsible for supposed mistakes in the way the rationing plan was applied.

He said Rodriguez had taken his order "like a soldier".

The announcement late on Wednesday was a significant shift in Chavez's attempts to prevent a widespread power collapse in the coming months by implementing rolling blackouts of up to four hours a day throughout the country.

The government says rationing is necessary to prevent a widespread power collapse if the water levels behind Guri Dam - which supplies most of Venezuela's electricity - fall to critical lows in the coming months due to a severe drought.

Officials also acknowledge that some gas- and oil-fired thermal-power plants are producing below capacity while undergoing repairs.

"I've ordered the electrical outages to be suspended, only in Caracas," Chavez said on state television on Wednesday.

"Because this government has to be capable of recognising mistakes made and fixing them in time."

Wrong sectors

Chavez said since the outages began in Caracas at midnight on Tuesday, authorities had cut power to the wrong sectors of the city in some cases.

"I think in one area they repeated the outage a few hours later," he said.

He said some traffic stoplights were left without power.

"Enough. I said if that's what is going on, there was an error there," he said.

Chavez said he ordered the chief of Caracas's state electric utility not to schedule any more blackouts until the process is reviewed.

It was unclear how soon the government could attempt to restart the measures in the city.

The rolling blackouts have drawn angry complaints from some Venezuelans, but Chavez did not refer to the popularity of the measures in his phone call to a late-night talk show.

Earlier in the day, he had urged Venezuelans to accept the cutbacks and compared them to a national energy diet.

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