Venezuela's government seizes electronic goods shops

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Media caption,

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

Hundreds of bargain hunters in Venezuela flocked to the Daka chain of electronics shops after President Nicolas Maduro ordered their seizure.

President Maduro accused the Daka chain of overcharging and said it would now be forced to have "fair prices".

He later announced the seizure of the JVG store in eastern Caracas, saying it was used by the wealthy elites of the city whom he called thieves.

The opposition blames government policies for causing high inflation.

On a speech on Friday night, President Maduro promised to sell off Daka's stock of plasma televisions, washing machines and other merchandise.

"We're doing this for the good of the nation. Leave nothing on the shelves, nothing in the warehouses!" he said.

Bargain hunters were quick to join overnight queues to buy the merchandise, some of it at a quarter of the price listed earlier in the week.

Image caption,
Daka's owners have not responded to President Maduro's allegations

Mr Maduro said government inspectors had found goods that were overpriced by as much as 1,000%.

He said a small air-conditioning unit was selling for 36,000 bolivars (£3,580; $5,730) at Daka, while the same unit cost 7,000 bolivars (£700; $1,113) in state shops.

Daka's owners have not responded to the allegations.

But BBC Caracas correspondent Irene Caselli says goods at state shops are often very difficult to find and sell very quickly when available.

She says state shops buy dollars to pay for imported goods at the official rate of around 6.3 bolivars per dollar. But private importers often complain official dollars are not readily available and that they must buy dollars on the black market at rates about seven times higher, our correspondent adds.

The move against Daka comes after weeks of government warnings against pre-Christmas price rises.

President Maduro often accuses wealthy businessmen of hoarding goods in order to push up prices.

But critics of his government say economic mismanagement, rather than unscrupulous retailers, is responsible for inflation and shortages of basic goods such as milk and toilet paper.

Correspondents say inflation, now running at 54%, has become an important issue in next month's local elections.

Growing economic problems in the oil-producing nation have dented Mr Maduro's popularity.

With municipal elections due across Venezuela on 8 December, recent opinion polls have shown the president's ratings have declined by about 10% in recent months.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles - who was narrowly defeated by Mr Maduro in presidential elections last April - wants next month's vote to become a quasi-referendum on the president.