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PM warns Iraqis of two more years of power misery

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PM warns Iraqis of two more years of power misery

Post  Shilo on Wed Jun 23, 2010 6:46 am

June 22, 2010 · Posted in NEWS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned Iraqis on Tuesday that two more years of electricity shortages lay ahead as there is no quick fix to the problem despite bloody demonstrations since the weekend.

He also launched a defiant defense of his beleaguered electricity minister but did not rule out accepting his colleague’s offer to resign after a spate of protests over power rationing amid soaring temperatures across the country.

“The power stations being built by Siemens and GE will take two years to complete at least,” he said, referring to the German and US engineering giants, warning that nobody should expect the shortages to end in that time.

“The electricity problem cannot be over in one or two days.”

Maliki described as “rioters” hundreds of men who took to the streets of the southern city of Basra at the weekend in heat that hit highs of 54 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit) where a man was shot dead by police.

“There is a difference between demonstration and unrest. In Basra, it was unrest,” Maliki said, insisting that Electricity Minister Karim Wahid remained the best qualified person in Iraq to boost power generation.

“His resignation letter is still on my desk. I will look into it,” Maliki told a Baghdad news conference of the electricity minister, who is regarded as a close ally of the premier even though he describes himself as an independent.

“It is not true that I asked him to tender his resignation,” the prime minister said, rejecting a report in his own Dawa party’s Al-Bayan newspaper.

“I don’t know anyone in Iraq who is more capable than he is at the technical level.”

Maliki recalled the problems of sabotage that Wahid had had to contend with in the Iraqi electricity distribution network, with repeated attacks on power lines by insurgents.

“He was dealing with terrorism day after day,” the prime minister said.

Maliki’s strong backing of his minister and blunt admission that an end to draconian power rationing remained a long way off contrasted with the fears expressed by others in his cabinet that street violence might escalate through the summer without swift action to improve supply.

Public anger with the work of the electricity ministry has boiled over as temperatures in central and southern Iraq have risen.

With Iraqis receiving power for just one hour in five, or less, from the national grid, only the few with access to their own generators and fuel have been able to refrigerate foodstuffs or air-condition their homes.

On Monday, hundreds of angry demonstrators pelted stones at riot police guarding the Dhi Qar provincial government headquarters in the southern city of Nasiriyah, putting 17 of them in hospital, including a lieutenant colonel.

Saturday’s protest in Basra saw police open fire on a frenzied crowd who threw stones at provincial government offices, smashing its windows in a chaotic scene.

In an interview with AFP on Monday, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned the Basra protest could be a harbinger of more trouble as prolonged “bickering” over who should be Iraq’s next prime minister sparks mounting discontent among ordinary people more concerned by the lack of basic services.

“What we saw in Basra on Saturday was a warning,” Zebari said. “It was the writing on the wall. The anger they showed was extraordinary.”

In his resignation offer on state television late on Monday, Wahid charged that the demonstrations had been “politicised” in a way that was damaging to resolving power generation problems.

“In the difficult circumstances that Iraq is going through, politicising the issue will not solve it, it will complicate it,” the minister said.…bGsDcG13YXJuc2l

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