Monday, December 05, 2005

Venezuela explosion 'aimed at elections'

Venezuela explosion 'aimed at elections'

By Natalie Obiko Pearson

Caracas, Venezuela - An explosion that damaged an oil pipeline supplying Venezuela's largest refinery was caused by government foes attempting to disrupt congressional elections, officials said Sunday.

The pipeline provided more than a third of the refinery's petroleum. But inventories of 2.8-million barrels of oil at the facility assured neither supplies to the domestic market nor exports will be affected, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said.

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and a major supplier to the US.

Interior Minister Jesse Chacon said C-4 explosives were used to blow up the pipeline on Saturday night and that officials believed the act was aimed at trying to destabilise the country.

"We already know who is behind this situation, and we have made some arrests," Chacon said, without giving details.

"That's how those who are withdrawing play the game," said Chacon, suggesting that opposition politicians who were boycotting Sunday's election played a role. He didn't elaborate.

Ramirez said the blast disrupted the 400 000 barrels of crude a day which the pipeline supplies to the Amuay refinery, part of the giant Paraguana refining complex. That amounts to about 43 percent of the oil supplied to the 940 000-barrel-per-day Paraguana complex, one of the world's largest.

It was "clearly intended to destabilise" the country, Ramirez told reporters, saying those responsible knew that disrupting operations at Paraguana would cause "chaos."

The pipeline is made up of two pipes, and one of which was expected to be operating normally again shortly, while the other would be repaired in five days, Ramirez said.

Investigators found remnants of C-4 explosives at three spots on the pipeline, Chacon said.

"Just one of them managed to break the oil pipeline. The other two deformed the tube's platform a little," he told reporters.

A gas pipeline running along the same route was also attacked, he said. Authorities removed explosives from one site before they went off, and at a second site the charge was too weak to cause any damage.

Two electrical stations on the west coast of Lake Maracaibo were also sabotaged, Ramirez said, without giving details.

Nobody was hurt by the explosion Saturday night in a remote region of western Venezuela, and firefighters extinguished a fierce blaze caused by the blast.

The military said it was stepping up security at key oil installations to prevent further sabotage.

Friday authorities arrested 11 people in Zulia state suspected of plotting to use violence to disrupt balloting, while a large cache of weapons, including C-4 explosives and grenades, was seized in central Guarico state.

Officials in Caracas also reported blasts from small explosives that reportedly injured three people on Friday. - Sapa-AP

No comments: