[QODLink]
Americas

Venezuela's Maduro hold talks with opposition

President hosts politicians as part of bid to put an end to two months of political unrest amid rising death toll.

Last updated: 11 Apr 2014 08:33
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, has hosted opposition leaders at the start of mediated talks intended to end two months of political unrest that has killed dozens of people across the country.

Thursday’s meeting, brokered by foreign ministers from the Unasur bloc of South American governments, took place at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas and was broadcast live on TV.

"The road here was long and complicated, but it was worth it ... we are going to listen patiently, and with respect and tolerance, to the compatriots of the opposition," Maduro said in lengthy opening comments.

He cautioned against unrealistic expectations.

"There are no negotiations here. No pacts. All we're looking for is a model of peaceful coexistence, of mutual tolerance."

Some opposition groups, including the party of jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, boycotted the talks while dozens of demonstrators remain in jail.

Protests broke out in the capital as the talks were taking place.

Protesters' mood

Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez, reporting from Caracas, said demonstrators were saying that the only way to overcome the crisis is removing Maduro from office.

"Protesters are in no mood to negotiate," she said.

Julian Infante, a protester, told Al Jazeera: "We will not have a dialogue over the tombs of our dead brothers."

Since the protests began in early February, 41 people have been killed and about 650 people have been injured, according to official figures.

Authorities said on Thursday that a policeman was shot dead in western Barquisimeto city while dispersing a demonstration.

Pollsters say approval levels for both Maduro and the opposition have fallen during the crisis, while an already slowing economy has suffered a further drag on businesses and transport from the impact of violent clashes.

Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, a top opposition leader, said the face-to-face discussions were long overdue.

"Something has gone very wrong for a meeting between the government and the opposition to be rare," he said, as quoted by Reuters news agency, adding that they must find a way to stop the bloodshed.

"Violence must be eradicated at the roots," Aveledo said.

Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader who narrowly lost to Maduro in last year's election to replace late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, attended the meeting and was due to speak later.

'Good faith' witness

Eleven opposition delegates and 11 "Chavistas" were given 10 minutes each to speak after Maduro's opening remarks.

Both sides have called on the Roman Catholic Church to be a "good faith" witness.

At the start of Thursday's discussions, the Vatican's envoy to Venezuela read a letter from the Pope, encouraging the efforts to find peace.

Maduro, who calls himself the "son" of Chavez and is seeking to preserve popular oil-funded welfare policies while tinkering with his predecessor's socialist economic model, had said before the talks he would be a "traitor" if he began negotiating away the gains of the revolution.

He says that if the opposition wants to get rid of him, it would have to be via the ballot only. His foes could force a presidential "recall referendum" in 2016 if they garner about four million signatures for it. Maduro's six-year term ends in 2019.

Maduro said he had "positive surprises" for the opposition at the discussions, but gave no details.

There have been calls for a goodwill release of former security official Ivan Simonovis, who is serving a 30-year sentence for some shootings during a brief coup against Chavez against 2002.

570

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
NSA whistleblower Snowden and journalist Greenwald accuse Wellington of mass spying on New Zealanders.
Whatever the referendum's outcome, energy created by the grassroots independence campaign has changed Scottish politics.
Traders and farmers struggle to cope as restrictions on travel prevent them from doing business and attending to crops.
Unique mobile messaging service, mMitra, helps poor pregnant women in Mumbai fight against maternal mortality.
Influential independence figure has been key in promoting Scottish nationalism, but will his efforts succeed?
join our mailing list