More blackouts as opposition, government rally
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP):
The Venezuelan opposition and government loyalists held rival demonstrations in Caracas on Saturday as both sides prepared for what some fear could be a protracted power struggle.
Meanwhile, more power and communications outages hit Venezuela, intensifying the hardship of a country paralysed by economic and political crisis. The blackout heightened tension between the bitterly divided factions, which accused each other of being responsible for the collapse of the power grid.
“Hard times are ahead,” said opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who addressed crowds with a loud speaker after security forces earlier dismantled a speakers’ stage that the opposition had erected.
The 35-year-old leader of the National Assembly said he anticipated more government efforts to sideline and intimidate the opposition. However, President Nicolás Maduro’s government has not moved directly against Guaidó since he returned to Venezuela from a Latin American tour Monday.
Guaidó earlier speculated that Maduro was effectively ignoring him in an attempt to sap the energy of the opposition, whose hopes of ousting the government have so far been stymied.
But on Saturday, Maduro stepped up verbal attacks on Guaidó, calling him “a clown and puppet” in a speech to supporters outside Miraflores, the presidential palace. He scoffed at Guaidó’s claim in late January to be interim president of Venezuela, a declaration supported by the United States (US) and about 50 other countries.
“Not a president, not anything,” said Maduro, who accused Guaidó and his US allies of sabotaging Venezuela’s Guri Dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric stations and the cornerstone of Venezuela’s electrical grid.
He said authorities had restored 70 per cent of power in Venezuela since a nationwide outage hit late Thursday, but progress was lost on Saturday when “infiltrators” allegedly struck again.