Venezuela tries to restore power among the looting; China offers help

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CARACAS (Reuters) – President Nicolas Maduro's government hastened Wednesday to restore power to western Venezuela after heavy looting in the second city, while China offered to help the South American nation to end the worst blackout ever.

Power had returned to many parts of Venezuela after last week's interruption that Maduro's ruling Socialist Party accused an act of sabotage in the United States, although it had not completely reached the western state of Zulia, where temperatures they are tall.

The looters have smashed the shop windows and sold goods in more than 300 companies across the state, located along the border with Colombia, the chapter of Zulia's business organization, Fedecamaras, said in a statement.

"This was really a tragedy," the opposition Nora Bracho lawmaker, representing Zulia in the National Assembly, said in a message on Wednesday. "Not having energy is already a weight at 104 degrees. Furthermore, there is no drinking water or food."

The country's main food company, Empresas Polar, said that four facilities in Maracaibo, the largest city after the capital Caracas, were looted this week, with looters launching themselves with water, soft drinks and pasta.

The Ministry of Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday China said it wanted to provide help and technical support to restore electricity, and claimed Maduro's claim that the problem was the result of sabotage.

Maduro's critics mocked the explanation of the sabotage, insisting that rampant corruption and a decade of incompetent management by state authorities were to blame.

A technical problem with the transmission lines connecting the Guri hydroelectric power plant in southeastern Venezuela to the national electricity grid probably caused the blackout, the experts said.

Without electricity, hospitals struggled to keep the equipment running, food rots under the tropical heat and exports from the country's main oil terminal have been closed. On Monday, the Venezuelans failed to obtain drinking water for domestic use by forming lines to fill the containers from a drain pipe.

The United States is preparing to withdraw the remaining diplomats in Venezuela, an effort that will not involve the US military.

PHOTO FILE: A hand is seen on the national flag during a protest against the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, March 12, 2019. REUTERS / Carlos Jasso

The Venezuelan authorities released Tuesday evening reporter Luis Carlos Diaz, who had been abducted the day before by mediation charges by the state for being involved in the blackout.

A judge ordered him not to leave the country and forbade him from making public statements – a movement rights group slammed it as another example of a growing crackdown on the media and free press.

"The ban on speaking to the media is a new form of censorship that seeks to prevent the public from knowing what happened during the arbitrary detention of Luis Carlos Diaz," the public rights group wrote on Twitter.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera; Edited by Daniel Flynn and Paul Simao

Our standards:The principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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