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Removal of Venezuelan bills on hold

CARACAS, VENEZUELA With protests rocking his unpopular government, embattled President Nicolas Maduro delayed until Jan 2 taking Venezuela's highest denomination bill out of circulation.

The 100 bolivar (S$0.01)bills would temporarily remain legal tender, Mr Maduro said, but the borders with Colombia and Brazil will remain closed to hit what he claims are "mafias" hoarding Venezuelan cash abroad in a US-backed plot to destabilise the country.

"You can continue to use the 100 bill for your purchases and your activities," Mr Maduro said at a meeting with officials broadcast on state television.

The bill is worth about 15 US cents at the highest official rate, and until recently, accounted for 77 per cent of the cash in circulation in Venezuela.

Venezuela has the world's highest inflation rate, set to hit 475 per cent this year, according to the IMF.

The government is trying to introduce new bills in denominations up to 200 times higher than the old ones, but the plan derailed when Mr Maduro banned the 100 bolivar note before the new bills arrived.

Four airplanes with the new currency set to arrive from abroad were delayed by international sabotage, Mr Maduro said.

He did not say where the money was coming from, or what type of sabotage.

Venezuelans stood in long lines at banks all week to meet a Friday deadline to exchange their currency.

When the deadline extension was announced people queued up again on Saturday.

"I don't agree with this, I've had to come all the way here with my miserable amount of cash to the BCV (Venezuelan Central Bank) in order to get money to eat," Ms Bismary Rivero, a 39- year-old homemaker, told AFP.

"This is madness, I'm tired of it." - AFP

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