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Refinery explosion kills 39 in Venezuela

An explosion at a oil refinery in Venezuela on Saturday caused a huge fire, killed at least 39 people, and injured dozens.

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An official of the state oil company, known as PDVSA, said the country also has enough supplies on hand to guarantee its international supply commitments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

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In terms of international oil markets, the disaster is not likely to cause much of a ripple, said Jason Schenker, an energy analyst and president of Austin,

Texas-based Prestige Economics LLC. Noting that other refinery accidents and shutdowns regularly occur around the world, he said: "There's likely to be relatively limited impact on global crude or product pricing."

"The real tragedy," he said, "is that these events continue to happen, not just in Venezuela but everywhere. It is a dangerous business."

Gustavo Coronel, an energy consultant and former PDVSA executive, called the tragedy "probably the worst one the oil industry has had in many years."

"Accidents happen, of course, although the problem with PDVSA is the inordinate amount of accidents that have taken place during the last years," Coronel said. Considering the overall record, "we are not talking about bad luck but about lack of maintenance and inept management," he said.

The labor leader Freites, who has worked at the refinery for 29 years, said workers had repeatedly alerted state oil company officials to problems that they feared could lead to an accident. "We've been complaining about problems and risks, including fires, broken pipes and a lack of spare parts," Freites said.

One opposition group comprised of former PDVSA employees, Gente del Petroleo, or Oil People, said it could not yet pass judgment on the cause of the explosion. But it but noted there had been ample concerns about lack of maintenance and poor management.

The group said in a statement that since 2003, 79 other serious accidents have been reported at the Paraguana Refinery Complex, collectively killing a total of 19 workers and injuring 67 others.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who is challenging Chavez in the country's Oct. 7 presidential election, expressed condolences to the victims and their families.

"We Venezuelans are one, and we grow in the face of this type of situations," Capriles said.

Jorge Rueda reported from Punto Fijo and Ian James reported from Caracas. Associated Press writers Christopher Toothaker and Fabiola Sanchez also contributed to this report from Caracas.

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