Protests, looting break out in Venezuela amid cash chaos

Protests and looting broke out in parts of Venezuela on Friday due to a lack of cash after the socialist government suddenly pulled the nation’s largest banknote from circulation in the midst of a brutal economic crisis.

An opposition legislator said there were three deaths amid violent scenes in the southern mining town of Callao – but there was no confirmation of that from the government.

Waving the now-worthless 100-bolivar bills, pockets of demonstrators blocked roads, demanded that stores accept the cash, and cursed President Nicolas Maduro in a string of towns and cities around Venezuela, witnesses said.

Dozens of shops were looted in various places.

Last weekend, Maduro gave Venezuelans three days to ditch the 100-bolivar bills, arguing that the measure was needed to combat mafias on the Colombia border despite warnings from some economists that it risked sparking chaos.

Opposition leaders said the move was further evidence he is destroying the OPEC nation’s economy and must be removed.

Authorities have thwarted a referendum sought by the opposition against the leftist leader. That might enable him to complete a six-year term ending in early 2019, but increases the prospect of social unrest.

With new bills – originally due on Thursday – still nowhere to be seen, many Venezuelans were unable to fill their vehicles’ fuel tanks to get to work, buy food or purchase Christmas gifts.

Adding to the chaos, many cash machines were broken or empty. And large lines formed outside the central bank offices in Caracas and Maracaibo where the 100-bolivar bills could still be handed over and deposited for a few days more.

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