Venezuela holds 16 in latest offensive on price gougers

CARACAS Fri Apr 25, 2014 10:27pm EDT

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to the media after his meeting with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on April 21, 2014. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks to the media after his meeting with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on April 21, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday that 16 people had been arrested in a new round of inspections to find alleged price gougers whom the socialist government blames for the worst inflation rate in the Americas.

Authorities detained dozens in raids on businesses at the end of 2013 in the first phase of what Maduro has called an "economic offensive" to tackle runaway consumer prices.

The 51-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez said a second wave started this week had turned up retailers hiking prices of meat and other foods by between 200 and 400 percent despite a new law capping profit margins at 30 percent.

"We have various detainees, I'm sorry to say ... The law is very clear. We already have 16 people detained for speculating and robbing the people," he said in a speech to the nation.

"We're going to go from place to place, because there is no excuse to speculate with prices. This economic offensive is more thorough."

Monthly inflation rose to 4.1 percent in March, taking the South American OPEC nation's annualized rate to nearly 60 percent, one of the highest in the world.

The government blames unscrupulous speculators, and the impact of economic disruptions during recent street protests against Maduro. But critics say the data illustrates the failure of socialist economics in the nation of 29 million people.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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