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Thursday 14th
posted by James Tweedie in World

Caracas sends officials but right-wing opposition says No

Venezuela’s opposition refused to join peace talks with the government yesterday after both sides were invited to restart negotiations in the Dominican Republic.

President Nicolas Maduro accepted an invitation from that country’s ex-president Danilo Medina and former Spanish PM Jose Luis Zapatero to resume internationally mediated negotiations in Santo Domingo planned for today.

But the right-wing opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) coalition said it would not engage in talks unless the government addressed a list of demands including the release of all “political” prisoners — including many jailed for violence.

The Mud walked out of the previous talks in February — mediated by the Vatican — before kindling four months of violent regime-change protests that left 124 dead.

The protests petered out after elections were held on July 30 for a new constituent assembly which will rewrite the country’s constitution.

The Mud boycotted the assembly but on Sunday elected candidates for next month’s state governor elections.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Maduro said he was sending a delegation led by former vice-president Jorge Rodriguez to the talks.

He added that Mr Zapatero and Mr Medina knew very well that “I have been the promoter of this dialogue, and that I accept this new proposal.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian both welcomed the decision.

Mr Guterres’s spokesman Stefane Dujarric said: “The secretary-general encourages the Venezuelan political actors to seize this opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to address the country’s challenges through mediation and peaceful means.

“The situation in Venezuela requires a political solution based on dialogue and compromise between the government and the opposition to ensure peaceful co-existence among all Venezuelans.”

Speaking after meeting Venezuelan Foreign Minster Jorge Arreaza in Paris, Mr Le Drian hailed the “good news” but repeated German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s threat of EU sanctions.

“I reminded him about the risk of European sanctions and the need for the Venezuelan government to give concrete signals of its willingness to relaunch negotiations with the opposition, within the framework of a sincere and credible initiative,” he said.