Large new blackout strikes Venezuelan capital, provinces

People line up at a bus stop in an attempt to leave the city during a power outage in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP)
Updated 26 March 2019

Large new blackout strikes Venezuelan capital, provinces

  • Pompeo’s call came after a Venezuelan official said Russian aircraft arrived in Caracas this weekend as part of ongoing military cooperation

CARACAS, Venezuela: A widespread new power outage spread across Venezuela on Monday, knocking offline much of the country’s communications and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos almost two weeks ago during the nation’s largest-ever blackout.
The outage began shortly after 1 p.m. (1700 GMT) and appeared to have affected as many as 16 of Venezuela’s 23 states, according to reports on social media.
Like the previous outage, officials blamed opponents who with the support of the US had carried out sabotage on the Guri dam — source of the bulk of Venezuela’s electricity. They said the “attack” had already been controlled, with service restored in much of the country already and remaining areas expected to come online in the coming hours.
“The damage that took 5 or 6 days to repair in the electrical system after the first attack carried out by the right-wing we recovered today in a few hours,” Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said in a televised address.
But those reassurances, similar to ones last time around, did little to calm the anger of residents in Caracas who even as he was talking filled traffic-clogged streets as they walked their way home after subway service in the capital was suspended
Like other small business owners, 27-year-old restaurant manager Lilian Hernandez was bracing for the worst even as service started flickering back on in parts of Caracas.
“We Venezuelans suffer all kinds of problems,” said Hernandez, who had just recently managed to restock food that spoiled during the previous outage. “We need a real solution that doesn’t obey to political interests.”
Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors Internet censorship, said outage had knocked offline around 57 percent of Venezuela’s telecommunications infrastructure.
The Trump administration, which has made no secret of its desire to remove the embattled socialist, has denied any role in the outages. Electricity experts and opposition leader Juan Guaido faults years of government graft and incompetence.
“This outage is evidence that the dictator is incapable of resolving the crisis,” Guaido wrote on Twitter Monday.
Meanwhile, as Venezuela’s economic and political crisis deepens, many seem resigned to continuous disruptions in their daily routines.
“The important thing is for people not to get desperate,” said William Rodriguez, who sells books at a kiosk under a downtown highway overpass.
Meanwhile, the US government warned Russia that the reported dispatch of military personnel to Venezuela was increasing tensions there.
US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday and said “the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by” while Russia takes steps to support its ally, Maduro.
Pompeo’s call came after a Venezuelan official said Russian aircraft arrived in Caracas this weekend as part of ongoing military cooperation. Reports that two Russian air force planes arrived could not be independently confirmed.
The US and dozens of other countries support Guaido, who says Maduro’s re-election last year was rigged. Maduro alleges the US and Guaido are plotting a coup.


Hong Kong protesters aim for big turnout at rare sanctioned march

Updated 19 min 37 sec ago

Hong Kong protesters aim for big turnout at rare sanctioned march

  • March comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections
  • Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that China is stamping out the city’s liberties

HONG KONG: Hong Kong democracy protesters are hoping for huge crowds later Sunday at a rally they have billed as a “last chance” for the city’s pro-Beijing leaders in a major test for the six-month-old movement.
The march comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections, shattering government claims that a “silent majority” opposed the protests.
The semi-autonomous financial hub has been battered by increasingly violent demonstrations in the starkest challenge the city has presented to Beijing since its 1997 handover from Britain.
Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city’s liberties.
The last fortnight has seen a marked drop in street battles and protester vandalism after the landslide win by pro-democracy candidates.
But activists say anger is building once more after chief executive Carrie Lam and Beijing ruled out any further concessions despite the election defeat.
The city’s police have taken the unusual step of allowing the Civil Human Rights Front to hold a march through the main island on Sunday — the first time the group has been granted permission since mid-August.
Organizers have called on Lam to meet their demands which include an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the protests, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.
“This is the last chance given by the people to Carrie Lam,” CHRF leader Jimmy Sham said on Friday.
Hong Kong’s protests are largely leaderless and organized online. They were initially sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the mainland but have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s rule.
The CHRF, which advocates non-violence, has been the main umbrella group behind record-breaking rallies earlier in the summer that saw huge crowds regularly march in searing heat.
Authorities have repeatedly banned major rallies in recent months citing the risk of violence from hardcore protesters.
Large crowds have simply ignored the bans, sparking near-weekly tear gas and petrol bomb clashes that have upended Hong Kong’s reputation for stability and helped tip the city into recession.
Sunday afternoon’s march will follow a well-worn route on the main island from Victoria Park to the heart of the commercial district.
It comes a day before the city marks the six-month anniversary of the protest movement in which some 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured, including police.
Online forums used to organize the movement’s more radical wing have vowed to target the morning commute on Monday if there is no response from Lam.
Years of huge, peaceful democracy marches have made little headway, leading to increased radicalization among some Hong Kong protesters and a greater willingness to embrace violent tactics.
But there is little sign Lam is willing to budge, leading to fears the lull in street clashes will be temporary.
Since the local elections the city’s chief executive has remained steadfast in her opposition to further concessions and Beijing has stuck by her even as she languishes with record low approval ratings.
The police force’s reputation has also taken a hammering.
A new poll released on Friday by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme, which has tracked public sentiment for years, showed record disapproval for the force with 40 percent of respondents now giving the force the lowest mark of zero.
Over the last two days the city’s new police chief Chris Tang has been in Beijing where he met with senior party figures including public security chief Zhao Kezhi who gave his “strongest backing” according to official reports.
Tang, who has continued his predecessor’s policy of rejecting calls for an independent inquiry, said his officers would clamp down on any violence at Sunday’s march.
“If there is arson, petrol bombs or damage to shops, we will take action,” he told reporters in Beijing.
“But for minor issues, we will handle in a flexible and humane manner,” he added.