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Venezuelan president gives workers weeklong vacation to save energy

President Nicolas Maduro on Jan. 15, 2016.

President Nicolas Maduro on Jan. 15, 2016.  (ap)

President Nicolas Maduro has a new strategy to stave off a major power crisis for Venezuela: a weeklong holiday for all workers.

The extended furlough adding three days to next week's Easter holiday was announced in the official gazette Tuesday. It came a day after the country's electricity minister warned that the water level at Simon Bolivar dam, the nation's largest, has fallen to within just 10 feet of its minimum operating level.

The Guri dam, as it was known before former President Hugo Chavez changed its name to honor Venezuela's independence hero, and two other hydroelectric facilities downriver supply almost 70 percent of the South American country's electricity.

Maduro's socialist administration blames the critical situation on a drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon and what it says is repeated sabotage of the electrical grid by opponents. For months it has been urging Venezuelans to cut back on use of energy-wasting appliances and even reduced work hours for public employees.

But industry experts say the crisis could have been prevented had the government invested in maintenance at Guri and followed through on planned expansion of thermoelectric plants that run on fossil fuels in a country home to the world's largest oil reserves. They warn that electricity rationing will be necessary as temperatures rise and the rainy season remains weeks away.

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