More blackouts hit Venezuela as opposition, government rally

Venezuela_Political_Crisis_08963 A cordon of Venezuelan National Police officers retreat when confronted by demonstrators who were temporarily blocked by police from getting to a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_93705 The leader of Venezuela's National Assembly Juan Guaido, who declared himself the country's interim president, speaks to supporters during a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_56887 Supporters of Venezuela's National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself the country's interim president, wait for his arrival to a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_85581 The leader of Venezuela's National Assembly Juan Guaido who declared himself the country's interim president, greets supporter upon his arrival to a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_18362 Demonstrators wait for the arrival of Venezuela's National Assembly leader Juan Guaido who has declared himself the country's interim president, at a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_13961 Demonstrators confront a cordon of Venezuelan National Police officer who temporarily block members of the opposition from reaching a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_60340 A demonstrator rants at a Venezuelan National Police officer who temporarily blocks members of the opposition from reaching a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_80854 Demonstrators confront a cordon of Venezuelan National Police officer who temporarily block members of the opposition from reaching a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_International_Women's_Day_30970 A woman wipes away tears as she stands with others listening to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president, during a rally to commemorate International Women's Day in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 8, 2019.
Venezuela_International_Women's_Day_29753 Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president, greets supporters at the end of a rally to commemorate International Women's Day in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 8, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_12591 Venezuelan opposition protesters confront police blocking their path, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Protesters vented their anger at security forces over a nationwide blackout, shortages of basic necessities and the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_33986 Venezuelan police block a crowd of people gathering to march in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Venezuelan opposition protesters on Saturday confronted security forces on a main avenue in Caracas, venting their anger over a nationwide blackout, shortages of basic necessities and the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_34165 Venezuelan police block a crowd of people who gather to march against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Venezuelan opposition protesters on Saturday confronted security forces on a main avenue in Caracas, venting their anger over a nationwide blackout, shortages of basic necessities and the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_78543 University students walk to a meeting point for a march against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Security forces are deploying in large numbers in Caracas ahead of the planned demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Venezuela_International_Women's_Day_04913 Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president, listen to him speak during a rally to commemorate International Women's Day in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 8, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_24451 A woman confronts Venezuelan police blocking a crowd of people gathering to march against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Security forces are deploying in large numbers in Caracas ahead of the planned demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_04610 Venezuelan police block a crowd of people who gather to march against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Security forces are deploying in large numbers in Caracas ahead of the planned demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_11762 A woman gets a crowd revved as they gather for a march against the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Security forces are deploying in large numbers in Caracas ahead of the planned demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_06322 Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to supporters during a government rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Demonstrators danced and waved flags on what organizers labeled a “day of anti-imperialism” in a show of defiance toward the United States, which has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to oust the president.
APTOPIX_Venezuela_Political_Crisis_85581 The leader of Venezuela's National Assembly Juan Guaido who declared himself the country's interim president, greets supporter upon his arrival to a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_06062 Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a government rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Demonstrators danced and waved flags on what organizers labeled a “day of anti-imperialism” in a show of defiance toward the United States, which has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to oust the president.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_24355 A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro sings a song about the late President Hugo Chavez as she holds an image of him during a government rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Demonstrators danced and waved flags on what organizers labeled a “day of anti-imperialism” in a show of defiance toward the United States, which has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to oust the president.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_83048 Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro acknowledges supporters during a government rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Demonstrators danced and waved flags on what organizers labeled a “day of anti-imperialism” in a show of defiance toward the United States, which has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to oust the president.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_39910 Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro acknowledges supporters during a government rally in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Demonstrators danced and waved flags on what organizers labeled a “day of anti-imperialism” in a show of defiance toward the United States, which has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to oust the president.
APTOPIX_Venezuela_Political_Crisis_93705 The leader of Venezuela's National Assembly Juan Guaido, who declared himself the country's interim president, speaks to supporters during a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
APTOPIX_Venezuela_Political_Crisis_15568 The leader of Venezuela's National Assembly Juan Guaido, who declared himself the country's interim president, uses a megaphone to speak to supporters during a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_08246 A demonstrator in a wheelchair rants at members of the Venezuelan National Police officers who temporarily blocked members of the opposition from getting to a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_15441 A woman confronts Venezuelan police blocking a crowd of people gathering to march against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019. Security forces are deploying in large numbers in Caracas ahead of the planned demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_10681 The leader of Venezuela's National Assembly Juan Guaido, center, who declared himself the country's interim president, walks with supporters during a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Venezuela_Political_Crisis_59565 Supporters of Juan Guaido, Venezuela's National Assembly leader who has declared himself the country's interim president, listen to the opposition leader during a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, March 9, 2019.
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Venezuelan opposition and government loyalists held rival demonstrations in Caracas on Saturday, as both sides prepared for what some fear could be a protracted power struggle.

The rallies unfolded as power and communications outages continued to hit Venezuela, intensifying the hardship of a country paralyzed by economic and political crisis. The blackouts heightened tension between the bitterly divided factions, which accused each other of being responsible for the collapse of the power grid.

“Hard times are ahead,” said opposition leader Juan Guaido, who addressed crowds with a loudspeaker after security forces earlier dismantled a speakers’ stage that the opposition had erected. He said he planned to tour Venezuela to seek support and lay the groundwork for a massive rally in Caracas.

The 35-year-old leader of the National Assembly said he anticipated more government efforts to sideline and intimidate the opposition. However, President Nicolas Maduro’s government has not moved directly against Guaido since he returned to Venezuela from a Latin American tour Monday.

Guaido earlier speculated that Maduro was effectively ignoring him in an attempt to sap the energy of the opposition, whose hopes of ousting the government have so far been stymied.

But on Saturday, Maduro stepped up verbal attacks on Guaido, calling him “a clown and puppet” in a speech to supporters outside Miraflores, the presidential palace. He scoffed at Guaido’s claim in late January to be interim president of Venezuela, a declaration supported by the United States and about 50 other countries.

“Not a president, not anything,” said Maduro, who accused Guaido and his U.S. allies of sabotaging Venezuela’s Guri Dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric stations and the cornerstone of Venezuela’s electrical grid.

He said authorities had restored 70 percent of power in Venezuela since what he called an “international cyberattack” late Thursday, but progress was lost on Saturday when “infiltrators” allegedly struck again.

The Venezuelan opposition and U.S. officials say Maduro’s attempts to pin blame on his political adversaries is absurd, and that government corruption and mismanagement over many years caused the blackout and wider deterioration of the economy.

In another blow to Venezuela’s infrastructure, an explosion occurred at a power station in the country’s Bolivar state on Saturday, according to local media. Video posted on social media showed fire and smoke billowing from the site. Venezuelan authorities have not commented.

Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, said Saturday that the second outage had knocked out almost all of Venezuela’s telecommunications infrastructure.

Earlier, it referred to online connectivity data indicating that the initial outage that began Thursday and eased about 24 hours later was the largest on recent record in Latin America.

Managers of the Caracas subway said they were waiting for the electricity supply to stabilize before resuming service, and the power grid problems quickly became only another issue that galvanized Venezuelans to take to the streets.

Opposition protesters who converged on Avenida Victoria in Caracas vented anger over the country’s problems, including hyperinflation and shortages of basic necessities. They pushed against the shields of riot police who avoided a clash by withdrawing from the area.

Some protesters elsewhere in the city said police tried to block them from reaching the rally, creating a sense of confusion as power and communications outages plagued the country.

“This is chaos,” said Jorge Jaimes, a physician frustrated with the decline of a country that was once the wealthiest in Latin America.

At the pro-government rally, people danced and waved flags on what organizers labeled a “day of anti-imperialism” in a show of defiance toward the United States, which has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to oust Maduro. Many showed up wearing red caps and shirts in support of the self-proclaimed “socialist revolution” of leader Hugo Chavez, who died six years ago and was succeeded by his protege, Maduro.

___

Associated Press journalists Scott Smith and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas contributed.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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