The opposition accused the President of staging a coup d'etat by blocking their efforts to hold a referendum on whether he should remain in power. Photograph: (AFP)
Senior opposition leader denied agreeing to hold talks with government, saying it was a ploy to resist efforts to remove Maduro from power
Hours after the Vatican announced that the Maduro government and the Venezuelan opposition had agreed on Monday to launch talks this month, a top opposition leader dismissed the claim.
The opposition leader said they did not agree to hold talks with the government after Pope Francis weighed in on the dispute. Henrique Capriles, a top figure in the opposition MUD coalition, said the announcement of talks was a ploy by President Nicolas Maduro to keep resisting the opposition's efforts to remove him from power.
"What dialogue? No dialogue has been started in Venezuela," said Henrique Capriles, a senior MUD figure, in an address broadcast online.
The Vatican had intervened to calm tensions in the country after the opposition accused the President of trampling on democracy by blocking a referendum to vote him out of power. However, the opposition said that President Maduro had jumped the gun by announcing the talks before terms had been agreed, with one leader accusing him of taking advantage of the Pope's "good faith".
Earlier, the Vatican envoy to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherring said that both sides had met and agreed to initiate a national dialogue with the purpose of establishing conditions for holding a plenary meeting later this month.
Capriles, however, added that he welcomed the Vatican's offer to help.
His announcement came after President Maduro received a private audience at the Vatican with Pope Francis. "I thanked him in the name of Venezuela for all the support, so that at last, definitively, a formal dialogue could be started in Venezuela between the opposition and the legitimate Bolivarian government that I lead," Maduro said in televised comments afterward.
The pope urged both parties "to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue, to alleviate the suffering of the people, particularly of the poor, and to promote renewed social cohesion," a Vatican statement said.
The opposition had vowed mass protests to fight what it called Maduro's "dictatorship" as it embarked on a new strategy to oust him.
The brewing political tensions in the country have increased the risk of violent unrest in the South American nation that is already dealing with an economic crisis.
(WION with inputs from agencies)