Venezuela arrests looters, store bosses in 'economic war'

Venezuela arrests looters, store bosses in 'economic war'

CARACAS - President Nicolas Maduro's government announced arrests of both store managers and looters on Sunday as part of what it calls an "economic war" in Venezuela between the socialist state and unscrupulous businessmen.

In a major pre-Christmas campaign reminiscent of the late President Hugo Chavez's dramatic style, Maduro has sent soldiers to "occupy" one chain of electronics stores and inspectors into scores of others to check for price-gouging.

Thousands of Venezuelans have been flocking to electronics stores, hoping to take advantage of new "fair prices" the government is imposing, sometimes half the previous cost.

However, scenes of looting on Saturday at a store belonging to the occupied electronics chain, Daka, have left many Venezuelans ashamed and fueled opposition claims that Maduro is stirring chaos rather than defending the poor.

Authorities announced that five managers, from the local Daka, JVG and Krash companies, would be prosecuted on charges of unjustified price increases after importing products with dollars obtained at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars.

Officials have displayed for cameras televisions, washing-machines and air-conditioning units whose prices they say have been jacked up 1,000 per cent or more by get-rich-quick businessmen.

Many shop owners justify this year's spiraling prices - annual inflation has hit 54 per cent - by saying they are forced to buy greenbacks for imports on an illegal black market at nearly 10 times the official rate.

Five people accused of looting Daka's store in the central city of Valencia have also been arrested, the Attorney General's office said in a statement.

Some Twitter users circulated more images on Sunday of crowds and jostling outside some shops around Venezuela. But there appeared to be no more outright looting as was seen in Valencia, where dozens of people were caught on camera running out of the Daka outlet with flat-screen TVs and boxes.

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