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Panama orders power rationing as drought continues

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The Panamanian government has ordered schools to close and government offices to reduce their opening hours as the country suffers from a power shortage.

It also declared a drought emergency in a third of the country.

Panama derives more than half of its energy from hydroelectric power and a lack of rain has hit the supply hard.

Government officials said they had been forced to take the measures after previous drives to save energy had failed to make much difference.

'Havoc'

Officials said bars, nightclubs, cinemas and supermarkets would also be required to close between 22:00 (03:00 GMT) and 06:00 (11:00 GMT) local time from Monday to Thursday.

Businesses have been asked to turn off their air conditioning between 11:00 (16:00 GMT) and 15:00 (20:00 GMT).

President Ricardo Martinelli asked Panamanians "to save energy because the lack of rain is really causing havoc with our electricity system".

Hydroelectric power accounted for almost 60% of Panama's electricity generation in 2010, according to the US Energy Information System.

Government minister Roberto Henriquez said he hoped the measures would prevent more drastic energy shortages

"If we stick to this we can certainly prevent further cuts which could seriously affect the country's economy," he said.

Panama has the fastest growing economy in Latin America with a rate of more than 10% for 2012, according to the government's statistic agency.

Officials said they would re-assess on Sunday whether to lift the restrictions and re-open schools, but with no rain forecast they called on citizens to curb their energy consumption as much as possible