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imageCARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Sunday he would decree new regulations on car prices, as part of the special powers conferred on him to combat corruption and so-called economic war.

Maduro said the move, details of which will be announced Monday, aimed to protect the middle class.

Last August, complaints over soaring car prices prompted the National Assembly to pass a law regulating the buying and selling of vehicles, among other items vulnerable to "speculation, hoarding and predatory loans."

The president has already used his new powers -- conferred on him for one year by the National Assembly -- to order lower rents for commercial spaces and prevent property owners from asking for payments in foreign currency.

He imposed price controls and capped profit margins at 30 percent, and has vowed to arrest shopkeepers who violate his rules.

This latest salvo comes just days before Maduro is set to face a key test of political strength on December 8, when municipal elections will take place in the midst of a burgeoning economic crisis.

It will be the first vote since Maduro succeeded his political mentor, late leader Hugo Chavez, in April elections whose tight results the opposition has refused to recognize.

Inflation is running at 54 percent a year, shortages of basic goods are widespread despite the country's oil wealth and a hard currency crunch wreaking havoc on the import-dependent domestic economy.

Maduro has said he needs the strengthened hand to counter inflation and shortages, which his government blames on "parasitic" conservative business interests.

But critics have blamed the government's strict currency controls for exacerbating Venezuela's price distortion and fueling a black market for dollars.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2013

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