Venezuela blames US for blackout

It orders diplomats to leave, China offers help to restore power

Reuters . Caracas/ Beijing | Published: 00:45, Mar 14,2019


Venezuela ordered American diplomats on Tuesday to leave within 72 hours after president Nicolas Maduro accused US counterpart Donald Trump of cyber ‘sabotage’ that plunged the South American country into its worst blackout on record.
‘The presence on Venezuelan soil of these officials represents a risk for the peace, unity and stability of the country,’ the government said in a statement, after talks broke down over maintaining diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Chief prosecutor Tarek Saab said on Tuesday he was asking Venezuela’s pro-Maduro Supreme Court to open an investigation into opposition leader Juan Guaido for participating in the alleged ‘sabotage.’
Washington has taken the lead in recognising Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president after the 35-year-old congress chief declared himself interim president in January, calling Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud. Most countries in Europe and Latin America have followed suit.
The United States has implemented a raft of sanctions to put pressure on Maduro, and the US special envoy on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said on Tuesday that Washington was prepared to impose ‘very significant’ additional sanctions in the coming days against financial institutions deemed to be supporting Maduro’s government.
Maduro, who retains control of the military and other state institutions as well as the backing of Russia and China, has blamed Washington for his nation’s economic turmoil and denounced Guaido as a puppet of the United States.
With the power blackout in its sixth day, hospitals struggled to keep equipment running, food rotted in the tropical heat and exports from the country’s main oil terminal were shut down.
Guaido joined a series of small opposition demonstrations around Caracas on Tuesday afternoon to protest the blackout, where he mocked the prosecutor’s investigation.
‘So that guy comes out and says we’re guilty of a supposed sabotage when all of Venezuela knows, when the whole world knows, who the real saboteur is ... I’m going to call him out by name: Maduro!’ he shouted.
The crowd in response shouted a profane insult, part of an increasingly common call-and-response game played in public places to express discontent with the socialist leader.
Power returned to many parts of the country on Tuesday, including some areas that had not had electricity since last Thursday, according to witnesses and social media.
But power was still out in parts of the capital of Caracas and the western region near the border with Colombia.
Meanwhile, China offered on Wednesday to help Venezuela restore its power grid, after president Nicolas Maduro accused US counterpart Donald Trump of cyber ‘sabotage’ that plunged the South American country into its worst blackout on record.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said China had noted reports that the power grid had gone down due to a hacking attack.
‘China is deeply concerned about this,’ Lu said.
‘China hopes that the Venezuelan side can discover the reason for this issue as soon as possible and resume normal power supply and social order. China is willing to provide help and technical support to restore Venezuela’s power grid.’

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