Venezuela's Chavez accuses opponents of sabotaging electricity grid ahead of elections

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez accused his political adversaries Wednesday of sabotaging Venezuela's electricity grid as part of a campaign to chip away at his popularity before legislative elections in two weeks.

Chavez didn't provide any evidence supporting his allegations about what is behind the country's troubles with power outages. He has made similar claims in the past, also without giving any evidence.

Opposition leaders argue power outages are the result of the government's failed efforts to upgrade the electricity grid.

Chavez called on federal police and intelligence agents to arrest those responsible for the purported sabotage, saying his government would "confront and neutralize" the perpetrators "to guarantee peace and calm" before the Sept. 26 vote.

"We are facing a wave of sabotage, I have no doubt," Chavez said during a televised speech.

Authorities have not arrested anyone for sabotaging the grid, power lines or electricity plants.

Government opponents deny they are sabotaging the power grid, saying Chavez's administration has not invested enough in electrical infrastructure or built enough new power plants to satisfy growing demand.

"The government isn't capable of guaranteeing an uninterrupted supply of electricity," Ramon Muchacho, an opposition politician, said at a news conference.

Chavez imposed electricity and water rationing last December to prevent a collapse of the electricity grid as a severe drought caused water levels behind the Guri Dam to drop to critical lows. The hydroelectric facility supplies most of Venezuela's electricity.

Water levels in the reservoir at Guri have returned to normal, but several states continue to suffer regular blackouts.