Venezuela's president creates council to fight economic 'sabotage'

CARACAS Thu Sep 12, 2013 8:54pm EDT

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a copy of the country's constitution as he talks to the media during a news conference at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a copy of the country's constitution as he talks to the media during a news conference at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas September 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro launched a state council on Thursday he said would counter economic "sabotage" by opposition-linked business leaders he accuses of artificially creating product shortages.

Starting next week, inspectors working for the "Superior Organ of the Economy" will begin visiting private companies, including warehouses and transport firms, involved in food and basic consumption goods, he said.

The OPEC nation has struggled in recent months with shortages of consumer products such as corn flour and toilet paper that critics say result from a clumsy currency control system that limits the flow of imports.

"I call on the whole country to join this battle for the economic security of the nation, the battle to ensure steady food supplies for our people," Maduro said during a televised meeting with pro-government activists.

He said anyone who saw irregularities should call a special phone line, "0-800-SABOTAGE," to file reports.

The president said opposition leaders had been holding meetings in Venezuela and abroad, and he accused them of planning to limit food production, reduce the number of cargo vehicles in circulation, and create long lines at supermarkets as part of a plot to destabilize the country.

Maduro's critics dismiss such accusations as conspiracy theories peddled by his administration to avoid assuming responsibility for economic problems created by the rigid regulations of private enterprise.

The new state council comes in addition to two existing consumer protection groups that have strictly enforced a set of price controls that businesses say sometimes force them to sell below production costs.

Maduro's mentor, the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, was revered by millions of Venezuelans who benefited from his oil-financed social programs ranging from cheap groceries to new homes during his 14-year rule.

Maduro, who narrowly won an election in April following Chavez's death from cancer, has vowed to continue his predecessor's legacy.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

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