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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Guaido will ask Venezuela legislature to respond to blackout

The duration of the power cut has meant that thousands of dialysis patients are at risk

Partial view of the Caracas neighborhood Petare hill - where electric power has been restored - on March 10, 2019, during the third day of a massive power outage which has left the capital and much of the country without communications, water and electricity. AFP
Partial view of the Caracas neighborhood Petare hill - where electric power has been restored - on March 10, 2019, during the third day of a massive power outage which has left the capital and much of the country without communications, water and electricity. AFP

Opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Sunday that he would ask Venezuela's legislature to declare a "state of alarm", authorising delivery of international aid in response to a power cut that has paralysed the country.

At least 15 patients with advanced kidney disease have died since the cut began on Thursday, as hospitals struggled to provide emergency services.

"We must attend to this catastrophe immediately. We cannot turn away from it," said Mr Guaido, 35.

The leader of the National Assembly in January declared himself interim president, triggering a power struggle in the oil-rich country of 30 million.

Mr Guaido said he was convening an emergency session of the National Assembly for Monday to declare the state of alarm.

It would set up another test of wills with President Nicolas Maduro, who last month used the military to repel an opposition bid to bring in humanitarian supplies from Colombia and Brazil.

But Mr Maduro pledged on Sunday that he would not back down.

"This macabre strategy to bring us to a confrontation will fail," he wrote on Twitter.

The Venezuelan Health Ministry also denied that the power cut had caused any deaths in public hospitals.

But the government announced that schools and workplaces would remain closed Monday as the power cuts continued.

Mr Guaido also called for more street protests on Monday to pressure Mr Maduro into stepping down.

"You have the right to go into the street, to protest, to demand, because this regime is letting Venezuelans die," he said, appealing to the armed forces "to stop covering for the dictator".

Mr Guaido is recognised by more than 50 countries as Venezuela's acting president. They have backed his calls for polls but the military high command has so far stood by Mr Maduro despite a plummeting economy and deep discontent.

In Washington, National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested members of the military were reconsidering their support for Mr Maduro.

"There are countless conversations going on between members of the National Assembly and members of the military in Venezuela, talking about what might come and how they might move to support the opposition," Mr Bolton told ABC's This Week.

He said one reason the security forces have refrained from arresting Mr Guaido was that "Maduro fears if he gave that order, it would not be obeyed".

Mr Maduro blames imperialism for the country's mounting woes, and claims the power cut was caused by an electromagnetic attack on the Guri hydroelectric complex, which supplies 80 per cent of Venezuela's electricity.

Mr Guaido dismissed that explanation as "Hollywoodesque." Critics blame the government for failing to maintain the power grid, as did the Lima Group, a mainly Latin American bloc.

For ordinary Venezuelans, the power cut has piled misery upon an already tough day-to-day struggle to survive in a once prosperous country, now reeling from hyperinflation and economic collapse.

"Every day is worse," said Edward Cazano, 20, who lives with his mother and three brothers in the poor Caracas neighbourhood of Pinto Salinas.

"We have the worst services in the world: no light, no water, sometimes no gas."

Hospitals with back-up generators were using them for emergency services, leaving patients to cope in the dark.

"This has been horrible. Everything dark. Only some areas are operating with a generator," said Sol Dos Santos, 22, whose daughter is in hospital.

Isolated cases of looting were also reported in Caracas on Sunday.

Francisco Valencia, director of the Codevida health rights group, said about 10,200 patients were at risk because dialysis units had switched off.

Meanwhile, businesses remained shut and public transport barely functioned.

"I am very nervous because this situation isn't being resolved," said Francisca Rojas, 62, a retiree in Caracas.

"The little food we have in the refrigerator is going to spoil. How long are we going to endure this?"

The power cut has been one of the worst and longest in recent memory in Venezuela, which is already suffering from serious shortages of food and medicine.

Updated: March 11, 2019 08:40 AM

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