Handout picture released by the Venezuelan Presidency showing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivering a speech to supporters during a gathering in Caracas on October 26, 2016
Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday sought to outflank his opponents in their bid to drive him from power, vowing to crush a threatened general strike.
The socialist leader is resisting growing pressure from the opposition, which blames him for the oil-rich South American country's plunge into economic chaos.
He said authorities would seize control of companies that join a general strike called for Friday by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
"If a company stops, it will be taken over," he said in a televised speech.
At the same time, he moved to placate hard-up citizens by promising to raise the minimum wage by 40 percent.
- Protests -
Maduro was on the counterattack a day after the opposition staged anti-government protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people across Venezuela.
The president and the opposition have accused each other of mounting a "coup."
Opposition leaders sharpened their tone after the authorities infuriated them last week by halting procedures to hold a referendum on removing Maduro.
The MUD coalition called a 12-hour general strike for Friday and promised a protest march to the presidential palace on November 3.
Maduro called on his own supporters to mobilize to "defeat the parliamentary coup."
A crowd of his followers rallied Thursday outside the National Assembly legislature, where the MUD has held a majority since January.
Opposition lawmakers were inside hearing declarations about the crisis from civil groups.
Maduro's supporters yelled angrily and scuffled with riot police guarding the assembly.
- Violence -
Clashes broke out at some of Wednesday's protests.
The government said a police officer was killed in the northern state of Miranda.
Maduro blamed that on his rivals Thursday, calling opposition leader Henrique Capriles a "murderer" and accusing him of plotting an "attack" on the presidential palace.
The opposition's vow to march on the palace next week further hardened the tone of the power struggle.
The palace was the scene of a short-lived opposition coup attempt in 2002 against Maduro's late mentor, Hugo Chavez.
The current head of the military and defense minister, Vladimir Padrino, has declared loyalty to Maduro.
- Talk to the island -
Maduro claims to have the Vatican's backing to hold a "national dialogue" with opponents from Sunday.
The MUD said it would agree to talks only if the government respects the constitutional right to a referendum and frees imprisoned activists and leaders, among other demands.
Maduro has vowed to travel to the Caribbean island of Margarita, where he has proposed starting talks on Sunday.
But it is unclear whether he will have anyone to talk to. The opposition insists that any talks be held in Caracas, "in the public eye."
The MUD's secretary general, Jesus Torrealba, said it still wants to settle the crisis "through a referendum or early elections."
- Cost of living -
Although Venezuela boasts the world's largest oil reserves, falling crude prices have plunged the country into deep recession.
It is unclear to what extent Maduro's wage hike would soothe the anger of citizens suffering shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies.
Maduro's decree will raise the minimum wage to the equivalent of about $140 a month.
But the cost of living is driven by massive inflation and a lopsided system of fixed exchange rates.
Maduro tweaked the exchange rate earlier this year in a bid to make essential imports less expensive.
But ordinary citizens interviewed by AFP in recent days complained they still can't afford many basic supermarket products.
Venezuela is facing inflation of 475 percent this year, with the International Monetary Fund predicting a rise to 1,660 percent next year.
"With inflation at current levels, the government could raise people's salaries daily," economist Luis Vicente Leon said, "and by evening they still wouldn't have enough."