(Updates with Maduro quote, context on bills)
CARACAS Dec 29 Venezuelan President Nicolas
Maduro on Thursday said his government would extend the use of
100-bolivar notes to Jan. 20, after a plan to withdraw those
bills from the economy sparked nationwide protests and
Maduro in December said the notes, the highest denomination
bill in the inflation-plagued OPEC nation, would be withdrawn to
prevent smugglers and "mafias" from trafficking the bills across
the border to neighboring Colombia.
He earlier had postponed the measure to Jan 2. from around
mid-December after angry citizens, unable to make purchases and
worried they would lose their cash holdings, staged protests
that led to hundreds of arrests.
"I want to announce that I have decided to publish a decree
extending the validity of 100-bolivar notes until Jan. 20,"
Maduro said in a televised address.
Venezuela suffers from triple-digit inflation as a result of
low oil prices and an unraveling socialist economy, which has
left basic purchases, such as a few days' worth of groceries,
requiring sacks of cash.
Though many Venezuelans shop with debit cards to avoid the
hassle of bills, point-of-sale networks have been increasingly
strained and such services are often unavailable in the
provinces and poor neighborhoods of the capital.
The 100-bolivar note is worth only around $0.03 on the black
market for dollars.
The government has promised to bring in new bills ranging
from 500 bolivars to 20,000 bolivars, but merchants and shoppers
say they have yet to see them.
Maduro on Thursday said a cargo of the new bills had reached
Venezuela's main airport, and repeated accusations that a
campaign of sabotage by adversaries had delayed their delivery.
Opposition leaders slammed the measure as a sign of Maduro's
economic incompetence and demanded his resignation.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bernadette Baum)