UPDATE 2-Venezuela March inflation speeds up amid street protests

Thu Apr 24, 2014 6:11pm EDT

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(Adds 2013 GDP figure, estimates of annualized inflation)

By Eyanir Chinea

CARACAS, April 24 (Reuters) - Venezuela's inflation accelerated to 4.1 percent in March from 2.4 percent the month before, the central bank said on Thursday, attributing the situation to an opposition-led "economic war" and months of violent street protests.

Soaring consumer prices and nagging product shortages have in part motivated opposition protesters to stage often violent street demonstrations to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro. At least 41 have been killed.

"The blocking of streets, threats against transport workers, the missed workdays ... affected the production of goods and their prices," the bank said in a politically charged statement, published two weeks after the deadline for releasing the figure.

The central bank's website on Thursday also showed that the OPEC nation's economy in 2013 grew 1.3 percent, less than the 1.6 percent that Maduro had estimated in December.

Food prices rose by 6.1 percent, which the bank attributed to roads blocked by opposition protests. It added that current trends indicate inflation may continue accelerating in April.

The statement omitted the annualized inflation figure, which topped 57 percent in February.

Two Venezuelan economists said their own calculations show the annualized rate had reached 59.4 percent. The bank's website shows the percentage change in the consumer price index, but has not provided the index itself since December.

A bank official said there were no plans to provide any further details beyond what was in the statement. No one was available to provide comment, the official said.

Wall Street analysts, local economists and opposition leaders have increasingly questioned information from the central bank, noting partisan language in statements, a reduction in available information and delays in releasing indicators.

The bank has stopped publishing a monthly figure tracking product shortages, saying it would collect the data but not release it to prevent the information from being politicized.

Thursday's statement, which did not carry the bank's logo, did not mention other factors that likely affected prices.

Those include prices of government-regulated foods and the creation of a new foreign exchange platform that devalued the bolivar currency by nearly 90 percent.

Nor did the bank mention the 75 percent expansion of monetary liquidity over the last year, which is an important gauge of consumer prices.

Maduro has blamed the current problems on economic sabotage by businesses linked to ideological adversaries in Washington. Government supporters generally focus on the poverty reductions achieved by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

Critics say an economic turnaround will require rolling back Chavez's economic legacy of currency controls, price controls and nationalizations, that put hundreds of businesses under state control. (Reporting by Eyanir Chinea, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Chris Reese)

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