Venezuela's Maduro meets opposition at Vatican-led talks to defuse political crisis
The Vatican and the Catholic Church in Venezuela brought the disputed sides to the negotiating table to 'avoid a spiral of violence' in the country. Photograph: (AFP)
In the first open dialogue between the rival political parties in Venezuela in nearly a year, representatives from the socialist Maduro government and the opposition leaders met for crisis talks late on Sunday.
The landmark talks being held in the presence of the Vatican envoys is aimed at defusing an increasingly tense political crisis in the country.
Among those on hand for the talks held on the outskirts of Caracas were President Nicolas Maduro and members of the opposition, including Jesus Torrealba, the leader of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) umbrella group.
Reaching out to the the MUD, Maduro assured "total commitment to the dialogue process" and said that all parties should do their "utmost to move forward in a progressive, sustained way".
But the talks have been fraught with disagreement among the opposition coalition, with some senior MUD leaders expressing feelings of "skepticism and distrust" and warning that the "conditions are not in place for dialogue".
The opposition parties blame Maduro for the country's economic crisis and have been angered by Maduro's efforts to block a referendum vote against him.
Torrealba reiterated the MUD's demands at the meeting that the government respect the constitutional right to a referendum, and that it free imprisoned MUD activists.
The Maduro government said the talks were aimed at "containing unconstitutional and undemocratic actions to overthrow the Venezuelan government."
Maduro's lead delegate to the talks, Jorge Rodriguez, denounced the opposition's plan to hold a demonstration at the presidential palace on Thursday as "craziness." He accused the opposition of plotting violence.
The palace was the scene of a short-lived coup attempt in 2002 against Maduro's late predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez.
(WION with inputs from AFP)