Large new blackouts strike Venezuelan capital, provinces

President Nicolas Maduro blames US-backed opponents

People jockey to enter a bus during a power outage that suspended the subway service in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, March 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

A new power outage across Venezuela has forced schools to suspend classes and workers to stay home, after a week-long electricity failure earlier this month.

The blackout started on Monday, knocking communications offline and stirring fears of a repeat of the chaos that ensued during the nation's largest-ever blackout.

Officials said the power had been restored by early Monday evening - but hours later the lights went out. The outage appears to have affected as many as 16 of the country's 23 states.

Venezuelans took to Twitter to voice their frustrations, using the hashtag #SinLuz - without light. Some said residents were banging pots and pans in the darkness in a sign of the nation's mounting tensions.

As with the previous outage, the government of President Nicolas Maduro sought to blame US-backed opponents, accusing them of sabotaging the Guri dam, source of 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.

But the the government's assurance did little to abate the growing anger among frustrated residents.

In the capital Caracas people filled traffic-clogged streets as they walked home after subway service in the capital was suspended.

The latest outages come as President Nicolas Maduro tries to keep his grip on power amid a revived opposition movement and punishing economic sanctions from the United States.

Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, said the early afternoon outage had knocked offline around 57 percent of Venezuela's telecommunications infrastructure. The second failure left nearly 90 per cent of the country offline, the organisation said.

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

"This outage is evidence that the dictator is incapable of resolving the crisis," Mr 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," William Rodriguez, who sells books at a kiosk under a downtown highway overpass told The Associated Press.

Some Venezuelans resorted to dark comedy. Lawyer Carol Landazabal tweeted the famous lines to The Sound of Silence by American duo Simon and Garfunkel: Hello darkness my old friend.

Also Monday, the rift between Russia and the United States over how to resolve the crisis in Venezuela widened following the arrival of Russian military personnel to support Mr Maduro.

In a telephone call, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that "the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela," the State Department said.

Mr Pompeo said "the continued insertion of Russian military personnel" in Venezuela could prolong the country's problems and urged Russia "to cease its unconstructive behavior."

Mr Lavrov countered during the call that "Washington's attempts to organise a coup in Venezuela and the threats directed against its legitimate government represent a violation of the UN Charter and blunt interference into internal affairs of a sovereign nation," according to the Russian foreign ministry.