Venezuela moves to relieve toilet paper shortage

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuela's National Assembly on Tuesday approved a US$79 million credit (S$98 million) to import toilet paper and other personal hygiene products to relieve shortages in the petroleum-rich state.

The South American OPEC member has the world's largest proven oil reserves but has wrestled with periodic shortages of several consumer goods since price controls were imposed in 2003 under the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

"We have consistently denounced the strategy of hoarding and speculation, and the campaign of terror that has spread among the people, forcing them to buy compulsively and fearfully," ruling party lawmaker Jose Avila said.

The government has long accused the centre-right opposition and the United States of plotting to undermine Mr Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution.

The credit will be used to purchase 39 million rolls of toilet paper, 50 million sanitary napkins, 10 million bars of soap, 17 million disposable diapers and three million tubes of toothpaste.

Venezuela has been bitterly divided since Mr Chavez's handpicked heir Nicolas Maduro was officially declared the winner - by a razor-thin margin - of last month's presidential election.

Mr Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate who ran against him, has accused the ruling party of stealing the election and has vowed to take the matter to international bodies.

Mr Chavez, who died of cancer in March, launched a "Bolivarian Revolution" during his 14 years in power, using the country's vast oil wealth to fund social programmes for the poor and back regional leftist allies.

But chronic shortages have plagued the country since Mr Chavez imposed currency and price controls in 2003.

Venezuelans suffer from sporadic power outages, inflation - which topped 20 per cent last year - and a public debt of US$150 billion, or half the gross domestic product of the country of 29 million.