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Myanmar seeks outside help with power outages

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Myanmar’s government has invited foreign firms to invest in the country’s electric power system for the first time in an effort to solve dire electricity shortages that recently led to a week of protests.

The Electric Power Ministry took out advertisements in state-run newspapers Friday and Saturday that read, “Invitation to private sector for electricity production and distribution.” The ads called on local and foreign companies to help the government “distribute electricity in the whole country as quickly as possible.”

Myanmar has suffered from power shortages for more than a decade. It has plentiful natural gas supplies, but a poor power distribution infrastructure that has lagged even more as the economy has grown.

Demonstrators in several cities protested the power outages for a week late last month in gatherings that were seen as a test of the tolerance of the reformist government that now rules the country, which is shedding a half-century of military rule.

During the peaceful protests, the government made an uncharacteristic appeal for understanding, saying that rationing was required to cope with greater demand and decreased supply during the hot summer months. It also blamed ethnic Kachin rebels for blowing up several electricity pylons that reduced power supplies in several areas.

Myanmar has signed several joint ventures with other countries for electricity generation.

But “this is the first time the government has invited investment in the country’s electric power distribution,” Han Win Aung from the Myanmar Investment Commission said Saturday. Until now, the distribution of electricity was under a state monopoly.

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