CARACAS, Venezuela

Blackouts put nearly half of Venezuela in the dark

Blackouts hit nearly half of Venezuela on Monday, prompting government officials to rush engineers to resolve the problems in 11 of the country’s 23 states.

Traffic lights went out, causing traffic jams in major cities. Service stations were forced to stop selling gasoline.

Igor Gavidia, an official from the Energy Ministry, said electricity returned to 90 percent of the affected regions within an hour, and engineers were working to restore power in the other areas.

He said the power outages were caused by failures of power lines that provide 3,000 megawatts of electricity.

Many parts of Venezuela had to cope with rolling blackouts for months last year, when President Hugo Chavez’s government said cutbacks were necessary during a drought that drove water levels to precarious lows at Guri dam. The facility produces 70 percent of the country’s electricity.


Retired judge ‘stunned’ that prince flew him to hospital

A retired British judge who was flown to the hospital by Prince William after suffering a heart attack on a mountain walk said Monday he was stunned to learn who had rescued him.

Nick Barnett, 70, told the BBC that a nurse aboard the Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter had whispered in his ear that Prince William was at the controls during the incident last Wednesday – just days after his wedding.

He was flown to Bangor hospital in Wales, where William is based.

“As I was being stretchered away from the aircraft, I saw one of the pilots on the right-hand side looking at me and I gave him the OK sign with my hand,” said Barnett, a former Hong Kong High Court judge who still sits in the Supreme Court of Brunei.

“He acknowledged me. Whether it was the prince I don’t know,” he said, adding that he was “stunned” to realize later who his rescuer was.

“I didn’t set out to be rescued by Prince William. I’d planned a nice day on the hills and to have a nice pint of beer,” said the judge, who is recovering in the hospital.


Premier accuses magistrates of politics in his bribery case

Premier Silvio Berlusconi once again accused magistrates of mounting a politically motivated campaign against him as he appeared in court Monday on charges that he bribed a witness to lie in a trial.Berlusconi’s hearing in a corruption case coincided with commemorations honoring magistrates killed by domestic terrorists. A handful of demonstrators gathered outside the court in support of prosecutors, and Italian President Giorgio Napolitano choked up in Rome as he delivered a speech honoring ones slain in the line of duty.

It was the premier’s fourth court appearance in recent months. He has pledged to appear as often as official duties allow to defend himself in four active cases. He denies wrongdoing.

Berlusconi is also on trial for allegedly paying an underage prostitute and using his influence to cover it up. In two other cases, he is accused of tax fraud.

During a break in Monday’s corruption trial, Berlusconi called the prostitute case a “joke.”