CARACAS - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government "occupied" a chain of electronics stores on Saturday in a high-profile crackdown on what it views as price-gouging hobbling the country's economy.
Authorities arrested various managers of the five-store, 500-employee Daka chain, sent soldiers into the shops and forced the company to start selling products at cheaper prices.
That brought crowds of bargain-hunters to Daka outlets and sparked looting at one store in the central city of Valencia.
"Inflation's killing us. I'm not sure if this was the right way, but something had to be done," said Carlos Rangel, 37, among about 500 people queuing outside a Daka store in Caracas. "I think it's right to make people sell things at fair prices."
Maduro, who accuses rich businessmen and right-wing political foes backed by Washington of waging an economic "war" against him, said the occupation of Daka was simply the "tip of the iceberg" in a nationwide drive against speculators.
In a speech to the nation on Saturday evening, he condemned the looting reported in Valencia but said it was an isolated incident and the real criminals were unscrupulous businessmen exploiting Venezuelans with unjustified price hikes.
"The ones who have looted Venezuela are you, bourgeois parasites," Maduro said, accusing Daka of raising some prices of products beyond 1,000 per cent of cost.
He showed particular astonishment at a washing-machine on sale for 54,000 bolivars ($8,571 at the official exchange rate of 6.3 to the dollar).
"We're going to comb the whole nation in the next few days. This robbery of the people has to stop," Maduro said.