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Venezuela probe says sabotage caused Amuay disaster

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - An official investigation into a 2012 explosion at Venezuela's largest refinery Amuay has concluded sabotage was to blame for one of the global oil industry's deadliest accidents, the OPEC nation's oil minister said on Sunday.

Summarizing a report to be given on Monday, Rafael Ramirez said the August 2012 blast that killed more than 40 people and paralyzed the 645,000 barrel-per-day plant came from a suspicious quick release of gas rather than a gradual leak.

"The investigation committee has concluded without any doubt that the origin of the accident has to do with a deliberate act of sabotage," Ramirez said, adding a huge cloud of gas gathered in 10 minutes then was ignited by a spark in a car-park.

In his comments to a local TV station, Ramirez said the gas had come from a pump in block 23 of the installation, and that the supposed saboteurs had a detailed knowledge of the refinery. but he gave no further specifics of the allegations.

Ramirez's accusation was in line with a plethora of such claims by President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government that opponents are constantly plotting against it.

Maduro, who won election earlier this year to replace Hugo Chavez after the former president's death from cancer, has accused the opposition of planning to kill him, and blamed them for a massive power blackout across Venezuela a few days ago.

Opposition leaders have scoffed at the Amuay and other accusations, saying they are an absurd smokescreen to distract Venezuelans from government incompetence.

An opposition investigation into the Amuay disaster concluded that poor maintenance and inadequate investment were to blame. It said victims had yet to be properly compensated.

"The Amuay tragedy was totally avoidable," opposition activist Maria Corina Machado said, when presenting their report last month.

(Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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