CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Nicolas Maduro, who called for an emptying of shelves when he seized control of a slew of appliance retailers last week, urged calm Monday as Venezuelans massed outside stores nationwide for a fourth straight day.
Maduro, in a nationally televised address, charged that opposition agitators had infiltrated the long lines that have formed in several cities and were trying to stir up violence. He said he was deploying tens of thousands of volunteer civilian militiamen to assist security forces in crowd control.
"Be calm, these products will stay where they are," Maduro said, adding that under no circumstances would he allow companies to gouge consumers again. "There's no need to sleep outside store doors. Nobody should despair. Nobody should get anxious."
Tension has hung over much of Venezuela since Maduro last week took control of several electronics retailers he accuses of hiking prices to sow discontent and destabilize his rule. This week the government is expanding its crackdown to businesses selling clothes, shoes and automobiles, all of which have seen prices shoot up in tandem with a sharp drop in Venezuela's bolivar currency on the illegal black market.
Business groups have accused the government of carrying out a witch hunt, and shops in parts of eastern Caracas shuttered early Monday for fear of violence. In the suburb of Los Teques, police fired shots in the air to prevent crowds from raiding a toy store. On Saturday, looters cleaned out an electronic store in the city of Valencia.
Still, even some opponents of Maduro have applauded his tough stance against what he calls the "parasitic bourgeoisie," and many of the president's political foes are waiting in the lines with his supporters to take advantage of deep discounts.
Among those waiting since Saturday night in a five-block-long line outside the JVG electronics shop in eastern Caracas was Robert Cox. Cox said he opposes the government, and disagrees with the abrupt way Maduro slashed prices, but he added that couldn't afford to let pass by the opportunity to restock his home the latest appliances.