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Venezuela’s Maduro calls for direct talks with Obama

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-23

A day after Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro called for direct talks with US President Barack Obama, opponents of Maduro’s government prepared for a mass protest in Caracas Saturday.

Maduro has accused US conservatives and media organisations of plotting a coup in his country, which has been shaken by weeks of street demonstrations that begin peacefully and often turn violent.

At least nine people have been killed, 104 injured and 137 arrested in the recent protests, according to government figures.

On Friday, Maduro challenged Obama to meet him for talks. “I call a dialogue with you, President Obama... between the patriotic and revolutionary Venezuela and the United States and its government,” he said.

“Accept the challenge and we will start a high-level dialogue and put the truth on the table,” Maduro told a news conference with foreign reporters.

Caracas and Washington have not exchanged ambassadors since their respective envoys were withdrawn in 2010. Venezuela has expelled eight US diplomats over the past year, including the three on February 16.

Strained relations

Oil-rich Venezuela’s main customer for its key export is the United States, yet Venezuela’s relations with the United States, long strained under Chavez, have worsened under Maduro.

Maduro proposed to restore ties to the ambassadorial level and said he had given his foreign minister “special powers” to handle bilateral dialogue.

US Secretary of State John Kerry late Friday chastised Caracas for its crackdown and said nothing about the call for direct talks.

“The government’s use of force and judicial intimidation against citizens and political figures ... is unacceptable and will only increase the likelihood of violence,” Kerry said in a statement.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said during a visit to Nicaragua on Friday that his government was “open to dialogue” with the opposition, but gave no timeline.

Obama on Wednesday called on Venezuela’s leftist government to address the “legitimate grievances” of its people — comments that Maduro dismissed as US meddling in Venezuelan affairs.

Rival protests

Pro-government “Chavista women” were also scheduled to march “against fascism” on Saturday in Caracas. While pro- and anti-government groups were expected to march in different parts of town, there was fear of violence if they met at any point.

Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state and the main opposition leader, has called on marchers to focus on demanding that authorities disarm pro-government “collectives” blamed for attacking demonstrators.

Maduro, who denies any links to the armed groups, says the protests are part of a “coup d’etat in development” instigated by Washington and conservative ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

The protests began on February 2 in the western city of San Cristobal led by students angry over the soaring crime rate. Protests quickly spread to Caracas and other major cities, and intensified over the past two weeks.

Despite Venezuela having the world’s largest proven oil reserves, under Madura the economic situation has deteriorated sharply, crime has skyrocketed, and corruption is rampant.

Maduro’s government warned it would cut off gasoline supplies to restless areas.

Capriles, who lost last year’s presidential election to Maduro by a razor-thin margin, is again in the limelight following the Tuesday arrest of another opposition leader, 42 year-old Leopoldo Lopez, on charges of instigating violence, property damage and criminal association.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
 

Date created : 2014-02-22

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