A group of former presidents has held secret meetings in the Dominican Republic with Venezuelan officials and government opponents in an attempt to mediate the South American nation's political standoff, an opposition leader has confirmed.

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Jesus Torrealba, executive secretary of the opposition alliance, confirmed on Saturday that the meetings, which were initiated under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, took place.

But he said there was no face-to-face encounter, and instead the two sides exchanged messages through the ex-presidents.

The OPEC nation is suffering a severe recession due to low oil prices and a collapsing socialist economic model.

President Nicolas Maduro is locked in a standoff with Congress after the opposition won a sweeping legislative majority last year.

The government-backed newspaper Ciudad Caracas described the encounter as an "exploratory meeting for the start of dialogue", adding that the meeting included ex-leaders of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

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Rodriguez retweeted state-run broadcaster Telesur saying the government had met the opposition.

A Foreign Ministry official however, declined to comment.

The head of Venezuela's MUD opposition coalition tweeted: "There is no 'opposition-government' meeting in the Dominican. Representatives of the coalition are attending a meeting with [the ex-presidents]."

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Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who is leading the recall push, said in an interview this week that dialogue would simply allow the government to buy time and that the only way to resolve the crisis was through a vote.

A dialogue effort in 2014 brought the two sides together amid months of violent anti-government street protests that have left more than 40 people dead. Both sides agree that the talks did not produce any substantive agreements.

Opposition leaders accuse the National Election Council of stalling their effort to recall Maduro, whose popularity in March dropped to 27 percent, according to local pollster Datanalisis.

They also say that the ruling Socialist party has used a pro-government Supreme Court to shoot down nearly every law passed by Congress since the opposition won a two-thirds majority of seats in December.

Maduro insists his government is the victim of an "economic war" led by business leaders with the backing of Washington.

Source: Agencies