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New power outage leaves much of Venezuela in the dark

Published
A man stands outside his home during a power outage in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019.  A new power outage spread across much of Venezuela on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation's largest-ever blackout. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Much of Venezuela remains without electricity Tuesday as a new power outage spread across the country in what many fear will be a repeat of the chaos a little more than two weeks ago during the nation's largest-ever blackout.

The outage began around midday Monday and appeared to have affected the majority of Venezuela's 23 states. While the lights did flicker back on in many parts after officials declared service would be restored within hours, the grid collapsed again in the late evening, knocking out communications and leaving much of the South American country bracing for the worst.

As with the previous outage, President Nicolas Maduro's government blamed U.S.-backed opponents, accusing them of sabotaging the Guri dam, which supplies the bulk of Venezuela's electricity.

"A macabre, perverse plan constructed in Washington and executed with factions of the extreme Venezuelan right," Vice President Delcy Rodriguez declared on state television, describing it as an "electromagnetic" assault.

Officials said the "attack" had been controlled, but their assurances, similar to ones the last time around, did little to calm the anger of residents in Caracas who filled traffic-clogged streets as they walked home after subway service in the capital was suspended.

Their patience grew increasingly thin when a second outage struck late into the night, with residents in some neighborhoods banging on pots and pans in pitch black to express their growing frustration.

Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, said the late evening outage had knocked offline nearly 90 percent of Venezuela's telecommunications infrastructure. Even the powerful state TV apparatus was down.

The outages come as Maduro is fighting to keep his grip on power amid a revived opposition movement and punishing economic sanctions from the U.S.

The Trump administration, which has made no secret of its desire to remove Maduro, has denied any role in the outages. Meanwhile, electricity experts and opposition leader Juan Guaido fault years of graft and incompetence by Maduro's socialist government

"This outage is evidence that the dictator is incapable of resolving the crisis," Guaido wrote on Twitter under the hashtag #ApagonRojo -- Spanish for "Red Blackout."

Guaido, who the U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize as Venezuela's rightful leader, said he was meeting with aides to determine actions "to express the indignation of the entire population."

Meanwhile, in a sign of mounting tensions, the government has presented what it claims to be evidence uncovered by intelligence agencies purporting to show plans by the opposition to hire mercenaries from Central America to carry out targeted killings and acts of sabotage.

During a news conference in the middle of the blackout Monday, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez showed screenshots of what are purportedly private text messages between Guaido, his mentor Leopoldo Lopez and other opposition insiders discussing payment details to the hired guns through banks in Europe and Panama.

"We have identified some paramilitaries that have entered Venezuela, and we will search for them by land, sea and air," Rodriguez said.

The opposition has yet to comment on the accusations but normally shrugs off such charges as a desperate attempt by the government to shift blame for its own ineptitude.

However, late at night, Lilian Tintori, the wife of Lopez, said that a group of government loyalists on motorcycles besieged her home in eastern Caracas, shouting epithets in the dark against her husband and warning that he would soon be thrown back in jail. Lopez has been under house arrest following his conviction for stirring anti-government unrest in 2014 in a case that was marred by irregularities.

"I personally hold the usurper Nicolas Maduro directly responsible for anything that happens to Leopoldo or any member of my family," she said.

People line up at a bus stop during a power outage that suspended the subway service in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019.  A new power outage spread across much of Venezuela on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation's largest-ever blackout. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
People line up at a bus stop during a power outage that suspended the subway service in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019.  A new power outage spread across much of Venezuela on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation's largest-ever blackout. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
People line up at a bus stop during a power outage that suspended the subway service in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019. A new power outage spread across much of Venezuela on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation's largest-ever blackout. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A man stands outside his home during a power outage in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019.  A new power outage spread across much of Venezuela on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation's largest-ever blackout. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
A man stands outside his home during a power outage in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019. A new power outage spread across much of Venezuela on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation's largest-ever blackout. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)