Venezuela delays 100-bolivar banknote withdrawal

Media caption,
Venezuela's president delays plans to withdraw 100-note

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has delayed the withdrawal of the 100-bolivar banknote until 2 January.

The sudden change of policy comes after days of economic chaos.

In a national broadcast, Mr Maduro claimed his country had been the victim of international sabotage, which had prevented new 500-bolivar currency notes arriving in time.

Many Venezuelans have spent several days in long queues trying to hand in or swap the old notes.

Thousands of shops have closed because of a cash shortage, and the public have been forced to rely on credit cards or bank transfers. Many were left unable to buy food.

Anger over the move led to skirmishes in six cities on Friday, the Associated Press reported. It said 32 people were taken into custody and one person was injured.

In Maracaibo there were incidents of looting which the police got under control by firing tear gas.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Looting has broken out, including at this bakery in Ciudad Bolivar
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Venezuelans carry goods taken from a supermarket after it was broken into

The government had said the scrapping of the 100-bolivar note was necessary to prevent smuggling.

The president said the aim was to tackle gangs which hoard Venezuelan currency abroad, a move he has previously described as part of the "economic war" being waged against his government.

Mr Maduro has said the gangs hold more than 300bn bolivares worth of currency, most of it in 100-bolivar notes.

He said there were "entire warehouses full of 100-bolivar notes in [the Colombian cities of] Cucuta, Cartagena, Maicao and Bucaramanga".

The president said one reason for withdrawing the banknotes was to block any of the 100-bolivar notes from being taken back into Venezuela so the gangs would be unable to exchange their hoarded bills, making them worthless.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro says scrapping the 100-bolivar note will help stop smuggling
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
People have been burning 100-bolivar bills during protests over cash shortages

Central bank data suggests there are more than six billion 100-bolivar notes in circulation, making up almost half of Venezuela's currency.

Economic experts fear scrapping the note will have little positive effect on the country's chronic economic and political problems.

Opposition leaders say the initiative shows that President Maduro is ruining the economy and must be ousted.

Media caption,
Venezuela hit by further uncertainty as 100-bolivar note is pulled

Correction 10 January 2017: This article has been amended to clarify where police used tear gas and the circumstances in which it was fired.