* Lines to buy gasoline in Caracas
* Supplies normal in rest of the country
* PDVSA is offering more fuels on the open market
(Adds lines at gas stations in Caracas)
By Marianna Parraga
Feb 21 Venezuela's oil minister said on Friday
he may cut off deliveries of fuel to areas hit by
anti-government protests, and the threat of local supply
disruptions could further drive up crude prices even though
exports are running normally.
Domestic conflicts in Libya and South Sudan, as well as
escalating unrest in Venezuela, supported Brent prices this
week, but by Friday traders sold positions before the weekend,
leaving the price for Brent around $109.69 a barrel.
In Venezuela, the weekly price for the local oil basket,
which includes crude and products, rose for a second straight
week, climbing 84 cents to $98.61 a barrel. Venezuela is the
largest South American oil exporter.
Venezuela's current unrest, with clashes between protesters
and the police, have left eight people dead. There have also
been scores of injuries and arrests since the violence broke out
eight days ago, the most serious turmoil since President Nicolas
Maduro was narrowly elected in April 2013.
"We will be forced to suspend fuel supplies to zones under
fascist siege, in order to preserve people's security," Oil
Minister Rafael Ramirez said via Twitter, in reference to
protesters. His comments were confirmed by state-run oil company
PDVSA, which he also runs.
Ramirez later appeared to walk back the comments, saying via
Twitter: "PDVSA is operating normally, fulfilling all deliveries
to the local fuel market, for peace and safety."
But his earlier comments caused some people to drive to
crowded gas stations in the eastern part of the capital Caracas
to fill up their tanks, a distributors group told Reuters. The
group said supplies in the rest of the country were normal, with
some delays to deliver fuels in areas with unrest.
The most violent protests have occurred in the western state
of Tachira, which abuts the border with Colombia and has
suffered supply problems in the past.
Maduro has promised to further the "socialist revolution" of
his longtime mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez, who died of
cancer last year.
EXPORTING THE SAME
Ramirez has said several times this month that Venezuelan
exports were running normally.
At the same time, the government has implemented a
"contingency" plan to reinforce security around oil
Oil sales by Venezuela, which generate more than 90 percent
of the country's hard currency, have been stable in recent
weeks. PDVSA is selling crude and products through both supply
contracts and tenders on the open market, according to documents
seen by Reuters.
In February, the company increased sales of jet fuel after
partially fixing problems in its domestic refining network, and
after years of selling ultra-low-sulfur diesel only on the local
market, it offered a cargo for export in March.
Traders said the increased fuel exports have raised cash for
a company that has well-known cashflow problems stemming from
debt-for-oil agreements with China.
They added they do not expect any export disruptions for
now, but acknowledged that protests could make it difficult to
deliver gasoline and diesel to local gas stations in a country
with consumption of more than 700,000 barrels per day (bpd).
Venezuela has not suffered any fuel shortages since a
months-long strike in 2002-2003 followed a brief coup against
Chavez, who regained power and led the country until his death.
The strike slashed crude output to 25,000 bpd from almost 3
million bpd, and long lines of people trying to buy gasoline or
gas for cooking took on a surreal tone in a country with the
world's largest crude reserves.
It took a long time to recover the industry from the damages
and the firing of almost half of PDVSA's staff, accused of
participating in the strike.
(Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Terry Wade and