Venezuela takes over Kimberly-Clark facilities: official

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's embattled government said Monday it would take over operations at facilities where US consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark just shut down, citing unworkable economic conditions.

"We are going to sign, at the workers' request... to authorize immediate occupation of the workplace known as Kimberly-Clark de Venezuela... by its workers," Labor Minister Oswaldo Vera said at the facility's plant in the central city of Maracay.

The country's economy has been hard hit by the plunging value of its main export, oil. Analysts also criticize its state-led economy of gross mismanagement leading to shortages of toilet paper, diapers and food.

Vera signed the document to loud cheers; he said machines would be back in operation within hours.

"As of today, Kimberly-Clark's doors are open and its production on line," the minister said, recalling that President Nicolas Maduro has warned that companies that cease production stand to lose their facilities.

The American company announced on Saturday it would cease production. It said it was impossible to get enough hard currency to buy raw materials, and that inflation was surging.

"Kimberly-Clark made the decision to suspend operations in response to the continued deterioration of the economic conditions in the country," a statement read.

"The company was forced into this action due to circumstances beyond its control and acted appropriately in executing the suspension of operations."

Kimberly-Clark said it "remains concerned for the safety of its former employees in Venezuela."

It warned at the time that if the Venezuelan governments takes control of Kimberly-Clark facilities and operations, "it will be responsible for the wellbeing of the workers and the physical assets, equipment and machinery in the facilities going forward."

The personal care goods giant said it would re-evaluate conditions for resuming its operations in the future if conditions change.

Maduro, an elected socialist, has blamed an "economic war" caused by "right-wing bosses" for the mass shortages.

In a sign of Maduro's concern at mounting social unrest, the president on Thursday replaced the head of the National Guard.

The Venezuelan opposition launched efforts to remove the president after winning control of the legislature in January.

But Maduro has challenged his rivals through the Supreme Court, which they accuse him of controlling.

The government has already filed a case in the court against the referendum bid.

The national electoral board has said it will announce by July 26 whether enough signatures have been authenticated for the referendum drive to proceed.

If that happens, Maduro's opponents must collect four million more signatures to call a full referendum on his removal.

The opposition is rushing to complete the recall process by January 10, the cutoff date to trigger new elections.

After that date, a successful recall vote would simply hand power to Maduro's hand-picked vice president.

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