By Mayela Armas and Tibisay Romero
CARACAS/VALENCIA, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela's streets were quieter than normal on Tuesday, but some businesses remained open despite an opposition call for a national strike to protest economic measures announced by socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
The OPEC nation on Monday cut five zeros from prices and pegged the country's currency to an obscure state-backed cryptocurrency, as part of a broad set of measures meant to address hyperinflation and an economic crisis.
Critics slammed the plan as inadequate in the face of inflation that topped 82,000 percent in July and called for a one-day halt of commercial activities.
Opposition politician Andres Velasquez estimated that 60 percent of the population had joined the national strike.
"All of us have lost (with these measures), and we are falling into an abyss," Velasquez said at a news conference. "If we don't stand firm against the regime, we're going to have this regime forever, which is their plan."
The Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Maduro declared Monday a national holiday for banks and consumers to get accustomed to the new pricing scheme, under which items that cost 1,000,000 bolivars last week were remarked with price tags of 10 bolivars.
In what could signal a new wave of confrontation with businesses, government officials on Tuesday occupied a local unit of paper packaging company Smurfit Kappa
The occupation was the result of worker complaints over a July decision to give them paid vacation rather than keep them on the job, the union said. Salaries in Venezuela are often so low that workers rely on factory cafeterias to get enough to eat.
"This is a temporary takeover for three months, while there is an investigation into what's happening at the plant," union leader Rafael Rangel said by telephone from the plant in the central city of Valencia.
Smurfit Kappa's Investor Relations division did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
FEW WORKERS, FEW PRODUCTS
Fedecamaras, the country's main business group, slammed Maduro's economic package as incoherent, and said that a significant minimum wage increase that is part of the plan would make it impossible for businesses to keep their doors open.
But the group did not take a position on the opposition-led strike, saying individual members should make up their own minds.
Many shops were closed in downtown Caracas, and some stands were closed at major produce market Quinta Crespo. Some employees were unable to get to work because they could not find public transportation, which has been in steady decline for months due to lack of auto parts.
"My employees didn't arrive, and the suppliers didn't offer much because there is a lot of uncertainty about salaries and prices," said Jesus Rojas, 36, who runs a fruit stand at the market.
Businesses were largely closed in the second-largest city, Maracaibo, which has suffered months of prolonged power outages, as well as in the smaller cities of Punto Fijo and Valencia. Banks had long lines outside as people sought to withdraw the newly released bills.
The ruling Socialist Party announced a march on Tuesday morning to support Maduro's economic measures that was scheduled to end with a rally at the presidential palace.
The collapse of the country's once-booming economy has fuelled hunger and disease, spurring an exodus of migrants to nearby countries.
In recent days, Ecuador and Peru tightened entry requirements for Venezuelans and violence drove hundreds of Venezuelan migrants back across the border with Brazil.
Maduro says his government is the victim of an "economic war" led by the opposition with the help of Washington, which last year levied several rounds of sanctions against his government and high-ranking officials.
(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O'Brien)
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Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 01:05 AM