December 21, 2014
Venezuela opposition to join exploratory talks with government
Venezuela's opposition said it agreed to attend exploratory talks with President Nicolas Maduro's government in a bid to end the country's worst political unrest for a decade.
Clashes between security forces and pro-government militants on one side and hooded opposition demonstrators blocking streets on the other have killed at least 39 people since mid-February.
Foreign ministers from the regional Union of South American Nations (Unasur) are in the capital Caracas, shuttling between meetings with the administration and opposition and seeking to persuade both sides to talk.
Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, a top opposition official, said the Unasur ministers told them the government was open to opposition demands, including the presence of a "good faith" mediator at any substantive discussions.
"We accept the foreign ministers' proposal to hold an exploratory, preparatory meeting to agree the conditions, date and time for public dialogue," Aveledo told reporters.
As a condition for talks, the opposition has demanded they be broadcast live. It also wants freedom for what it calls "political prisoners" arrested since the start of the unrest, and the disbanding of armed pro-government militant groups.
Maduro said late on Monday he was ready to meet opposition leaders and that he had been suggesting talks in public or in private for weeks. But he said his foes rejected the offers.
Ricardo Patino, Ecuador's foreign minister, welcomed the decision to hold a preparatory meeting and said he hoped it would result in an agreement to hold weightier talks.
Venezuelan media said Maduro would attend the discussions, due to take place at the Foreign Ministry.
Protesters are calling for Maduro to resign and complain about a litany of problems from rampant crime to food shortages. The government says they are seeking a coup like the one in 2002 that briefly toppled Maduro's late predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
The fatalities have included supporters of the government, opposition protesters and several members of security forces.