Pro-government panel in Venezuela recommends release of 80 opponents

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Caracas (AFP)

A commission from Venezuela's pro-government Constituent Assembly has recommended the release of more than 80 political opponents of President Nicolas Maduro who were arrested during protests.

Delcy Rodriguez, president of the assembly and head of its Truth Commission investigating the protests, said the recommendation had been forwarded to Maduro and to relevant criminal-justice offices.

"We hope this will be done in the coming hours," she said, adding that Christmas was "a moment of reconciliation."

The fate of those imprisoned has been a subject of negotiations between the government and the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) in the Dominican Republic, as both sides seek a solution to the country's grave political and economic crisis.

A third round of talks is set for January 11 and 12.

Earlier this week, Venezuelan opposition leaders asked Maduro to free "political prisoners" -- whose numbers one non-governmental group has put at 268 -- before Christmas as a gesture of goodwill.

On Thursday, the regional trade bloc Mercosur also called for their release.

The government has insisted that all are being held for acts of violence, conspiracy or treason, not as "political prisoners."

Rodriguez said those affected were being held in both civilian and military prisons, and she suggested community service as an alternative to imprisonment. Some were detained in 2014 protests, and others this year.

Venezuela, whose oil reserves once made it the region's richest country, has been paralyzed in recent years by economic collapse and political conflict.

Opposition forces accuse Maduro of dismantling democratic institutions and setting up the Constituent Assembly to rubber-stamp his policies.

Supplies of food and medicine have become scarce, taking an ever-greater toll on people's health, and hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have chosen to emigrate.