Venezuela's Guaido pledges more protests over power, water shortages

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, attends a meeting with political leaders at a university in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 1, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS (REUTERS) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Monday (April 1) called on supporters to continue taking to the streets in protest of power and water shortages, as the government of President Nicolas Maduro appeared prepared to begin a rationing programme.

Scattered protests continued throughout several working-class neighborhoods of the capital Caracas on Monday, with small groups of people blocking roads demanding water be returned after a week of intermittent blackouts that have left many areas without electricity.

That followed demonstrations around Caracas on Monday night when police fired gunshots after residents set up burning barricades, according to Reuters witnesses. The oil-rich South American country has been hit by two waves of crippling blackouts since March 7.

"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?" Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, said at a 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."

Guaido invoked the country's constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing Maduro's 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He has been recognised by most Western and South American countries as the Opec nation's rightful leader.

Maduro, a socialist, calls Guaido a puppet of the United States who is attempting to oust him in a coup. He has blamed both the US government and the domestic opposition for"attacks" on the country's main hydroelectric facility, which his government says have been causing the blackouts.

Maduro said the country would begin a programme of "load administration," which Venezuelans on social media interpreted as a programme of power rationing, without providing details on when it would start.

Electricity supplies have been intermittent in Caracas for several days, leading to the cancellation of school activities and a shortened workday on Monday. On Monday morning, the power was on in some blocks but not in adjacent ones.

Blackouts and water shortages have long been common in Venezuela, especially in the interior. But the outages in March were more frequent, more widespread, and longer-lasting than previous incidents, particularly in the capital.

Maduro's critics and local electrical engineers consulted by Reuters said the blackouts were due to years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance of the country's electrical infrastructure.

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