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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Brazil eases power rationing
Unlit street lights in Sao Paulo
Lights out: Brazil's plan takes effect
Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has watered down his electricity rationing programme in the face of widespread criticism.

Under the changes, fewer families will be expected to cut consumption and nobody can be cut off without warning.

"There have been doubts and criticisms of the programme, and I want to make it clear the government has taken them as welcome and necessary," Mr Cardoso said.


It's absurd, electricity is a basic, not a luxury

Sao Paulo resident Amarilis Saraiva
In a TV address, the president called for support for the new measures, which took effect on Monday.

"Reducing energy consumption by 20% is not a small task. It's a challenge and will demand a lot of all of us," Mr Cardoso said.

Surcharges

The rationing programme is aimed at easing the country's acute energy crisis, caused by a drought that has reduced Brazil's hydro-electric output.

The government has called on some consumers to make electricity savings of 20% or face surcharges - or even being cut off.

Electricity companies have said the plan is extremely difficult to implement because many people have not been properly notified of the targets and the companies lack the staff to go into homes and cut power supplies.

Confusion

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Sao Paulo says the rationing has started with a great deal of confusion.

Consumers and power companies have attacked the government for not clearly outlining the guidelines.

Illegal electricity connections in a Sao Paulo slum
Illegal electricity connections add to the problem

Others say they will not be able to meet the targets and are likely to have their power cut off.

"I don't know how to cut. I'll be ironing clothes at my daughter's as she has a bigger quota," schoolteacher Luzia Costa dos Sanos said.

Economic costs

Others oppose the order outright.

"It's absurd, electricity is a basic, not a luxury. With this rationing people are losing their rights," said Sao Paulo resident Amarilis Saraiva.

The government is facing a host of lawsuits designed to declare the measures unconstitutional.

To try to win public support, Mr Cardoso has relaxed some rationing targets.

Small consumers - those using up to 100 kilowatts a month - will no longer be expected to cut usage, though they will be rewarded if they do.

Mr Cardoso said this measure would remove 40% of Brazilian families from the scheme.

Heavier users who manage to cut usage by 20% will also be excused any surcharge.

Only big users who do not cut usage face the risk of being cut off.

Our correspondent says electricity usage by both consumers and industry has fallen sharply over the last month.

A number of companies are also laying off workers amid predictions that the crisis could seriously hurt Brazil's economic recovery.

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