Venezuelan leader says opposition will turn lights off

Venezuela's acting President Nicolas Maduro accused the opposition Thursday of plotting to sabotage the national power grid to cause a blackout ahead of the April 14 election to replace Hugo Chavez.

Maduro, who is facing opposition leader Henrique Capriles in a bitter campaign, said he ordered the "militarization" of areas with power stations, and that he would call on the armed forces and population to "take the street" if national power is shut down.

"I want to alert the whole nation about this. They are organizing a general blackout of the country, those irresponsible people on the right," Chavez's designated successor said at a rally in the central state of Cojedes.

Maduro said he fired the local head of the national electric company in the northern state of Aragua late Wednesday after the lights went out in blue-collar neighborhoods, even though there was no technical reason for the power loss.

"We are investigating and all the civil servants who are plotting against the people will be detained," he said, adding that power cuts were reported in Caracas.

Parts of oil-rich Venezuela nevertheless suffer from regular power outages, a problem Capriles has seized on to criticize the socialist government that Chavez led for 14 years until his death on March 5.

Responding to Maduro's remarks, Capriles told a rally in Aragua that "the electricity problem is resolved with investments, maintenance, with a vision from the state."

Maduro vowed to unveil a plan at the end of April to overhaul the nation's electric grid, which experienced a major breakdown three years ago.

The acting leader said the plot to cause a power blackout was part of an "economic war" of the "bourgeoisie" against his government.

"Now the capricious one," Maduro said, referring to Capriles, "is announcing blackouts... They are plotting."