Venezuelan President Maduro 'to expand price controls'

National Guard Soldiers stand on guard as shoppers wait outside an electronics store in Caracas on 9 November, 2013 National Guard soldiers occupied electronic good stores on Saturday

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says he plans to extend price controls to all consumer goods, if he is given powers to govern by decree.

In a televised address, Mr Maduro said that he wanted to set legal limits on businesses' profit margins.

His announcement followed the seizure on Saturday of shops accused of selling electronic goods at inflated prices.

The National Assembly is expected to vote this week on his request to govern temporarily by decree.

'Theft'

The president demanded there be "zero tolerance with speculators" in his speech broadcast on Sunday. "This is beyond usury, this is theft," he added.

On the weekend, soldiers occupied a chain of shops selling electronic goods which, according to Mr Maduro, had sold items at vastly inflated prices.

Hundreds of people flocked to the Daka stores after they were forced by the government to sell their goods at lower prices, some of them at a quarter of the price listed earlier in the week.

Emily Thomas: ''The crowds flocked... in the hope of finding a bargain''

"We're doing this for the good of the nation," the president said, accusing the managers of the stores of waging an "economic war" against Venezuela.

He also announced the arrest of five managers from the Daka, JVG and Krash electronics stores on suspicion of hiking up prices.

Five more people were arrested for allegedly looting a Daka shop in the city of Valencia.

But President Maduro said reports of looting had been exaggerated by factions of the press, which he accused of "complicity with the bourgeois parasites".

'Cuban puppet'

The president announced that he would next turn his attention to stores selling toys, cars, food items, textiles and shoes.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the move proved that the president "is a failed puppet of the Cuban government".

"Every time he opens his mouth, he scares away the investments that create employment, and he worsens the crisis," said Mr Capriles, who narrowly lost to Mr Maduro in April's presidential election.

Official figures suggest inflation is running at more than 50%. Price hikes have become an important issue in next month's local elections.

Mr Maduro blames most of Venezuela's economic woes on "sabotage" by opposition forces, but critics say government mismanagement is behind the country's problems.

Opponents say the president's crackdown on price inflation is an attempt to boost his popularity with poor voters ahead of the local polls on 8 December.

Mr Maduro has asked the National Assembly to give him special powers to fight corruption and "economic sabotage". The measure is expected to be voted on this week.

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