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Venezuela government, opposition to hold new round of talks

© afp/AFP | Dominican President Danilo Medina said Venezuelan government and opposition delegates will hold a fourth round of talks on resolving the crisis facing the country on January 18, 2018

SANTO DOMINGO (AFP) - 

Venezuelan government and opposition delegates meeting in the Dominican Republic will hold a new round of talks on Thursday on resolving the crisis facing the country, the Dominican president said.

Venezuela is in the throes of a deepening crisis caused by falling oil prices, spiraling inflation and corruption that has ravaged the oil-rich country's economy. President Nicolas Maduro has increasingly consolidated power, aided by disarray in the opposition.

"Although we have very important advances, we are still left with pending issues," President Danilo Medina said Saturday.

The two sides will hold further talks in Santo Domingo on January 18, said Medina, one of those working to encourage the dialogue.

After 10 hours of meetings aimed at finding solutions to the protracted political and economic crises, Jorge Rodriguez, the main Venezuelan government delegate, said there was consensus on the "majority of the points."

"We remain at the negotiating table... we have some points that I am sure will be resolved" in the talks on January 18, Rodriguez said.

Julio Borges, the main delegate for the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), also highlighted agreement.

But the MUD's main requirement in the negotiations is that this year's presidential election be "free and fair" -- something that will be difficult to achieve.

The latest round of meetings, which began on Thursday, came after Maduro's government threatened to ban key opposition parties from the election, while the opposition threatened to resume street protests which cost the lives of 125 people last year.

Venezuela's all-powerful Constituent Assembly, loyal to Maduro, has ordered the three main opposition parties to re-register with the National Electoral Council (CNE) in order to take part in the presidential election.

The rule was imposed after the parties boycotted mayoral elections in December, saying they lacked transparency.

The opposition wants the government to recognize its call for a more neutral CNE, international observers at the polls, the release of political prisoners and a later timeline for the election.

But analysts believe it is likely the election will be held in the first half of the year, as Maduro seeks to take advantage of opposition disarray.

© 2018 AFP