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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Cold forces Argentine energy cuts
A worker at a gas distribution centre in Santiago on 29 May
Chile relies heavily on Argentina for natural gas
Argentina has been rationing gas supplies as cold weather blamed for some 17 deaths continues to strain the country's energy system.

Officials ordered that homes and small businesses be given priority for natural gas, with large industrial users told to cut back.

Argentine officials said they hoped normal service would resume soon.

On Monday, Argentina stopped exporting natural gas to neighbouring Chile but shipments have now been resumed.

Parts of Argentina, including the capital Buenos Aires, have been experiencing near freezing temperatures this week.

The strain on the country's energy infrastructure was exacerbated by technical problems at two nuclear power stations.

"We have been prioritising supplies for family homes and businesses," the under-secretary for fuels, Cristian Folger, told the state news agency Telam.

Restrictions on the sale of compressed natural gas for vehicles have also caused long queues at service stations, provoking protests among Buenos Aires taxi drivers whose cars run on the fuel.

Correspondents say although Argentina's economy has been growing strongly in recent years, there has not been sufficient investment in infrastructure.

The cold snap in Argentina is forecast to ease over the next few days.

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