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Maduro to Discuss Plans for Venezuela's Flagging Economy

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delights in seeing supporters upon his return to Caracas after a 10-day trip abroad, Jan. 17, 2015.

President Nicolas Maduro was set to make announcements on Venezuela's economy in his annual speech to parliament Wednesday, after delaying promised measures aimed at shoring up the recession-hit OPEC country.

Economists were guessing that Venezuela might devalue its bolivar currency. They expected a reduction or suspension of dollar sales at the lowest official rate of the three-tier currency controls, currently 6.3 bolivars, to help state coffers amid a tumble in oil revenues and a black market price for the greenback 27 times higher.

Yet with his popularity falling, the 52-year-old successor to socialist leader Hugo Chavez has so far steered clear of taking socially risky measures, including increasing the price of the world's cheapest gasoline.

From early December, Maduro has said various times that he was mulling "changes" to Venezuela's Byzantine currency control system, seen as a major cause of the country's economic crisis, but then stalled on delivering.

Instead, he has stressed the need for further controls.

"In the message I will give the nation I will announce a set of measures to accelerate the transition to a productive socialist economy," Maduro said last weekend after arriving from a 10-day trip abroad. "We have to deepen the model."

Venezuela is suffering a sharp recession, shortages of basic goods and an inflation rate of more than 60 percent. But the government still maintains popular Chavez-era welfare programs, such as subsidized food and free health clinics, that benefit millions.

Maduro was due to speak around 5 p.m. local time (2130 GMT) at the National Assembly, with supporters called to congregate outside at the same time.

Sensing a souring national mood, the political opposition has called on Venezuelans to bang pots and pans during Maduro's speech in a traditional form of protest.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition has also called for a peaceful protest march Saturday, while government supporters are to rally Friday.

Both sides are seeking a show of support amid a vicious blame game over economic shortages and looming parliamentary elections expected in December.

Investors and analysts will be scouring Maduro's speech for details of potential financial deals and any mention of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries policy following his visits to China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, Algeria and Qatar.

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