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Venezuela impose two-day work week to save power, plagued with daily blackouts

Published:Wednesday | April 27, 2016 | 4:03 PM
In this Saturday, April 23, 2016 photo, a boy illuminates his home with a candle during a 24-hour blackout, in the El Calvario neighborhood of El Hatillo, just outside of Caracas, Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP)
Venezuelan cities cleaned up from a night of looting and fiery protests Wednesday as government offices closed their doors for the rest of the week in the face of a worsening energy crisis that is causing daily blackouts.

The socialist administration began imposing a four-hour daily blackout around the country this week to save power. Then yesterday, President Nicolas Maduro announced that millions of officials will now work only Monday and Tuesday.

Angry residents in darkened towns around the country took to the streets last night, setting up flaming barricades and raiding shops for bread and other scarce food.

More than two dozen people were arrested for looting in the western city of Maracaibo, according to state security secretary Biagio Parisi.

PHOTO: In this Saturday, April 23 photo, residents are silhouetted against the facade of a church, the only building illuminated after a 24-hour blackout, in the El Calvario neighborhood of El Hatillo, just outside of Caracas, Venezuela.  

The administration says the water level behind the nation's largest dam has fallen to near its minimum operating level because of a severe drought. Experts say lack of planning and maintenance is also to blame.

Caracas is being spared from the rolling blackouts. Some here complain that the country is starting to resemble the dystopian series "The Hunger Games," in which districts suffer for the benefit of the extravagant capital city.

As people become more desperate in outlying states, politicians in Caracas are appealing for calm after scoring a small victory yesterday that will allow them to begin the effort to recall Maduro.

Venezuela's electoral authority yesterday delivered the petition sheets the opposition needs to collect signatures for a formal petition drive. Some in the opposition had believed that the government would never hand those sheets over.

PHOTO: Pedestrian and drivers are blocked by a protest of the residents of municipality El Hatillo, who are blocking the streets around their neighborhood after 24 hour without electricity just outside of Caracas, Venezuela on Saturday.

Opposition leaders held a rally to launch the start of the recall drive today as many institutional buildings downtown remained closed.

Retired Environmental Ministry worker Edgar Diera sat on the steps of the Justice Ministry, making doomsday predictions to people who showed up only to find the doors locked.

"A country needs its workers to show up," he said, shaking a newspaper at a snarl of cars in front of a broken traffic light. "This place is in ruins".

Workers will be paid for the days they're sent home. Some have been using their Fridays off to wait in lines to buy groceries and other goods. Others have been going home to watch TV and run the air conditioning, leading critics to say the furlough is not an effective energy-saving measure.

There's also the question of the jobs they will be leaving undone.

"The measure will paralyse Venezuela's public administration, further hampering the state's ability to function," said Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst with the London-based consulting firm IHS Global Insight.