Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela's Maduro defends withdrawal of major banknote

International bridge in Urena, Venezuela December 18, 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption People clashed with Venezuelan National Guards as they tried to cross the border to Colombia on Sunday

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says his decision to scrap the nation's most-used banknote has allowed it to triumph over its enemies.

The withdrawal of the 100-bolivar note has prompted protests and looting in several states as the supply of ready cash rapidly ran out.

But Mr Maduro said taking millions of notes out of circulation had smashed the black market.

He has, however, postponed the withdrawal until early January.

Nevertheless, some businesses were reportedly still refusing to accept the 100-bolivar notes, even though they remain legal tender until the new year.

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There were more reports of rioting on Sunday. In the western state of Tachira people raided warehouses in search of food.

Many said they were afraid of what would happen next, despite the postponement of the withdrawal.

At the Colombian border there were scuffles as people scrambled to buy food and medicine, which are scarce in Venezuela.

Mr Maduro said that Venezuela's borders with Colombia and Brazil would remain closed until the 100-bolivar note ceased to be legal tender on 2 January, in order to prevent black market trading.

Venezuelans are only allowed to cross the border on foot for family visits.

Mr Maduro said on state TV that 300 alleged looters had been arrested.

Addressing opposition parties, he said: "Don't come and tell me they are political prisoners."

He accused the riot leaders of taking instructions from President Barack Obama, alleging they wanted to engineer a coup against Venezuela's left-wing government.

State TV showed a plane arriving on Sunday afternoon carrying the first batch of replacement notes, the 500-bolivar.

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