Chavez raises Venezuelan minimum wage 25 percent

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — President Hugo Chavez announced a 25-percent increase in Venezuela’s minimum wage Friday to try to blunt the effects of soaring inflation, and played down criticism of his government’s handling of an energy crisis and other domestic problems.

Chavez challenged opponents’ predictions that his popularity could take a dive due to measures such as last week’s currency devaluation and rolling blackouts imposed by the government.

“They say the country is collapsing … that Chavez is going to fall,” he said in his annual state-of-the-nation address to the National Assembly. “They are going to be disappointed.”

Chavez’s opponents are looking to capitalize on a range of vulnerabilities as they try to regain control of the National Assembly in September elections: blackouts made necessary by the energy shortage, 25-percent inflation, a banking scandal involving businessmen with ties to the government, rampant crime and heaps of trash lining potholed city streets.

“They say everything is Chavez’s fault. But with so much repetition, which is what they do, some people end up believing them,” he said. “There’s a government here that knows what it’s doing.”

Chavez’s government began scheduled power outages of up to four hours a day throughout the country this week. But a day after the measures took effect in Caracas, the president suspended the outages in the capital, saying the rationing plan was riddled with mistakes. Rolling blackouts continue elsewhere in the country.