Chavez extends Easter to save energy

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President Hugo Chavez has added three days to Venezuela's Easter holiday to deal with a growing energy crisis.

The move - which will close government and public offices - means most Venezuelans will have a seven-day break starting on 1 April.

Mr Chavez said the aim of the measure was not to encourage "laziness, but to save energy".

Caracas says a drought has dropped water reserves at Venezuela's main hydroelectric dam to critical levels.

The opposition says lack of investment and inefficiency in the energy sector have contributed to the crisis.

Many business leaders have warned that industrial production could be disrupted.

Mr Chavez rejects these claims, accusing his critics of exaggerating the crisis - or even planning to sabotage the power grid ahead of parliamentary elections planned in September.

The president last month signed a decree declaring an "electricity emergency" to tackle power shortages.

Under the decree, energy users who consume more than 500 kilowatt-hours per month must reduce their consumption by at least 10% or face a 75% price rise.

Industrial users were also ordered to cut their usage by 20% or face sanctions.

Although Venezuela has big oil reserves, it is dependent on hydro-electricity for some 70% of its power.

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