Reuters International

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (L) smiles as he speaks to supporters during a rally to celebrate the 206th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in Caracas, Venezuela, in this handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace on April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

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By Girish Gupta

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday night increased the country's minimum wage 30 percent, amid rampant inflation that has destroyed purchasing power in the crisis-hit country.

As of May 1, the minimum wage will jump to 15,051 bolivars per month - $1,505 at the strongest official exchange rate but just $13.50 at the black market rate.

Maduro also increased a monthly food ticket to 18,585 bolivars - around $17 at the black market rate.

The president celebrated that the rise would be the twelfth since he was elected president in April 2013 after the death of his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez.

"Only a president like Nicolas Maduro, son of Hugo Chavez (could achieve this)," said the president in an hours-long address on state television.

Critics counter that the repeated wage hikes reveal the government's utter failure to stem inflation and a deep recession.

"This man's 'increases' are a joke. Inflation is rocketing!" said opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Twitter, adding that inflation in the month of March was at 20 percent.

Since Maduro took over, the bolivar has fallen 98 percent against the dollar on the black market rate. Inflation is in triple-digits.

The president claims a U.S.-backed opposition is waging an "economic war" against him by fanning inflation and hiding scarce goods.

The wage hike takes effect on May Day, traditionally celebrated by the left as International Workers' Day, when Maduro supports are scheduled to march in capital Caracas.

(Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Marguerita Choy)

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