Venezuela’s Maduro meets opponents

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Reuters

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. File picture: Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Caracas -

President Nicolas Maduro agreed to meet with a Venezuelan opposition delegation on Tuesday, after a fresh push from top diplomats from across South America.

In just over two months, 39 people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and shortages demonstrators blame on Maduro's elected, heavily state-led socialist government.

One problem is that only a small part of those opposing Maduro's government and policies have so far agreed to talk. University students have led protests, and organised political foes include both moderate and radical wings.

“We had quite a long conversation,” Maduro said on Monday after the meeting with eight South American foreign ministers.

“They proposed a meeting tomorrow with the opposition delegation, and I agreed.”

In this round, the more moderate Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition has said it will join Maduro for talks. MUD seeks change without unseating Maduro.

“I hope that (MUD leaders) do not backtrack, and that they sit down at the table,” Maduro added.

Some other, more radical opposition members who sought to use street protests to topple Maduro have been jailed.

Maduro, the elected heir to late long-term leader Hugo Chavez, has lashed out at the demonstrations, branding them a “fascist” US-backed plot to overthrow his government.

Yet Venezuela's attorney general admitted last month that demonstrators have been abused during weeks of protests and dozens of complaints, including allegations of murder levelled at the police, are being investigated.

Harvard-educated economist Leopoldo Lopez is being held in a military prison since his February 18 arrest in the midst of opposition rallies against Maduro, who has faced near-daily demonstrations since early February.

Conservative Latin American lawmakers meanwhile launched an effort with the International Court of Justice in the Hague to have Maduro charged with crimes against humanity, they announced in Buenos Aires.

The request, citing evidence of crimes against humanity during the protests, was filed by lawmakers Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann (with Propuesta Republicana de Argentina), Adrian Oliva (with Convergencia Nacional de Bolivia) and Cecilia Chacon (Fuerza Popular de Peru). - Sapa-AFP


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