Maduro to Meet Venezuela Opposition in Bid to End Crisis

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and members of the opposition were to meet later Tuesday to lay the groundwork for talks to end more than two months of demonstrations that have killed dozens.

It follows mediation efforts by a delegation of South American ministers, all members of the regional Unasur group, who have been in Caracas since Sunday to promote political dialogue in their crisis-hit neighbor.

“We accept the proposition of the Unasur foreign ministers for a preparatory meeting to set the conditions for a public dialogue,” Ramon Aveledo, executive secretary of the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition (MUD), told reporters.

He spoke after meeting Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, who earlier had announced a preparatory meeting for later Tuesday between the government and MUD to define the “agenda and methodology” of future talks.

Since early February, 39 people have died in clashes between security forces and protesters angered by soaring crime, high inflation and shortages they blame on the Socialist government led by Maduro. More than 600 people have been hurt in the unrest.

On Monday, the Unasur ministers had convinced Maduro to sit down with the opposition.

The opposition had however initially refused to commit, setting as preconditions that both parties be seen as equals, the existence of a clear agenda, the broadcasting of debates on radio and television and the participation of a “good faith” third party.

Maduro, the elected heir to long-term leader Hugo Chavez, who died in March 2013, has lashed out at the protests, branding them a “fascist” U.S.-backed plot to overthrow his government.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed support for the attempts at dialogue, calling the moment “delicate.”

“Right now we are very supportive of third party mediation efforts that are aimed to try to end the violence and see if we can get an honest dialogue to address the legitimate grievances of people in Venezuela,” he told a congressional committee.

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