BFF-04 Venezuela government, opposition in fresh talks on crisis

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BFF-04

VENEZUELA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY

Venezuela government, opposition in fresh talks on crisis

SANTO DOMINGO, Jan 12, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Delegates from the Venezuelan
government and opposition met Thursday in the Dominican Republic for a third
round of talks on resolving the country’s protracted crisis ahead of this
year’s presidential election.

The two-day meeting, on the neutral ground of the Dominican Republic,
comes after the government of President Nicolas Maduro threatened to ban key
opposition parties from the election.

The opposition, in turn, threatened to resume street protests which cost
the lives of 125 people last year.

The atmosphere was tense as the talks got under way.

The head of the government delegation, communications minister Jorge
Rodriguez, accused the opposition of paying lip service to the talks while
planning to “return to the strategy of violence.”

“We do not need to go to the Dominican Republic if they do not want to,” he
said on the eve of the talks. “Go to the streets. We will wait for them in
the streets.”

Juan Andres Mejia of the Popular Will opposition party was pessimistic.

“It seems to be in the air that we will not be able to advance,” said
Mejia, whose party leader Leopoldo Lopez is under house arrest.

He said the negotiations will only work if the government commits to free
and fair presidential elections, the date of which has yet to be set.

Maduro insisted the talks could yield a “preliminary deal,” saying in a
national address that he had instructed his negotiators to make progress.

“Let’s not give the opposition any excuses to run off looking for
violence,” he said.

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 want the government to recognize their call for a more
neutral CNE, international observers at the polls, the release of political
prisoners and a later timeline for the election. However, analysts believe it
is likely the election will be in the first half of the year, as Maduro will
seek to take advantage of opposition disarray evident in a string of
electoral defeats late last year.

The government is demanding opposition recognition of the Constituent
Assembly, set up by Maduro last year at the height of the opposition campaign
to depose him. It has ruled with absolute powers since August.

Adding to the uncertainty around the talks, two of the countries that
brokered them are threatening to pull out of the process: Mexico and Chile.

Mexico has accused the Venezuelan government of breaking promises made at
the negotiating table.

“If we don’t get some concrete, credible results now, there’s no point in
continuing,” Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz wrote on Twitter.

BSS/AFP/RY/08:15 hrs