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Energy crisis worsens, nearly 40 percent of Serbia without electricity

By JOVANA GEC The Associated Press 11/3/00 2:50 PM

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) -- In the worst energy crisis in years, nearly 40 percent of Serbia was left without electricity Friday as authorities stepped up power restrictions in Yugoslavia's dominant republic.

"We apologize to the citizens because of the restrictions," said Momcilo Cebalovic of Serbia's state power company, EPS. "We are doing all we can, both technically and financially, to improve the situation."

Serbia's power system is in an alarming state because of years of poor maintenance under former President Slobodan Milosevic and an overall economic decline.

The power grid was further damaged in last year's NATO bombing and is believed to be in need of a major overhaul. EPS officials say only 30 percent of necessary regular repairs have been made this year.

The severe drought in the Balkans over the past several months added to the hardship because Serbia partly relies on hydroelectricity to supply power.

Cebalovic said that the increased power restrictions were required to prevent the system from breaking down altogether, the Beta news agency reported. He warned that levels in the Danube and the Sava rivers were so low that drawing water from them might be halted.

Residential areas were primarily affected by the selective blackouts, with hospitals and other crucial users not affected, said officials.

According to EPS officials, Serbia lacks about 20 million kilowatts of electricity daily.

The energy crisis presents a major problem for the new, pro-democracy administration of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica ahead of parliamentary elections in Serbia scheduled for December.

But the energy crisis may soon ease somewhat. The European Union has promised aid and on Thursday, Russia resumed natural gas shipments suspended in June because Yugoslavia was behind in its payments.

Some pro-democracy officials have accused EPS of creating the crisis to undermine the new government.

But experts have warned that the power system is indeed in crisis, and that Serbia faces a hard winter. The relatively low price of electricity set by the former government to stave off social unrest further impoverished the EPS.

Beta said that EPS will raise the prices to force the citizens to conserve electricity. Also, power will be imported from Bulgaria and Romania, but that, too, is unlikely to cover the supply needs once temperatures drop with the arrival of winter.

-- Martin Thompson (, November 04, 2000

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