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Maduro urges re-start of political dialogue

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro (right) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gesture at Miraflores Palace in Caracas on Friday.

Foreign ministers from Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia arrive today to Caracas

CARACAS — Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro urged opposition leaders to return to political talks intended to stem unrest around the country or face the “repudiation” of the nation.

Moderate leaders of the Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition broke off dialogue this week, saying government officials were insulting them and rebuffing requests for releases of opposition-linked prisoners.

Unrest has flared again in Caracas in recent days, with more than 100 youths arrested during violent clashes with security forces and attacks on government buildings.

Since anti-government protests began in February, 42 people have been killed, more than 800 injured, and about 3,000 arrested, of whom more than 200 remain behind bars.

“We don’t accept blackmail from anyone,” Maduro said during a ceremony with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Caracas.

“They (the MUD) say they want immediate results. The dialogue itself is a positive result. What are they looking for? In private, they’ve said things that are impossible.”

The opposition is particularly pressing for the release of former Caracas police commissioner Iván Simonovis, who is serving a 30-year prison term for his involvement in a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Hugo Chávez.

Foreign ministers return

Foreign ministers from Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia, who have been mediating the talks, were due to return today, but may now find themselves shuttling between the two sides.

“It would be very sad if they abandon the table, but the country would carry on, no one’s going to stop working,” Maduro said. “There would, though, be national repudiation of their anti-democratic attitude... I urge sense and reflection.”

Maduro, a socialist like the late Chávez, has cast the protest movement as a US-supported coup plan, while foes say months of rallies are the product of economic hardship and repression.

Protest numbers have dropped in recent weeks, but a rump of masked youth activists still take to the streets near daily, sometimes setting up barricades and burning vehicles. “The coup leaders have not given up their intentions,” said Maduro. “The fascist right-wing is paying criminal gangs to assassinate public figures and thus create chaos in our country.”

Maduro also announced yesterday that he has ordered his Minister of Interior and Justice, Miguel Rodríguez Torres to make public the evidence he has allegedly collected of a right-wing coup plot.

The government has been promising for weeks to release this information but has so far failed to deliver the goods.

Maduro also announced yesterday the implementation of a “Special Plan for communal militias.”

“They are territorial militias. The idea is to promote a new military doctrine so that people can defend their communities,” Maduro said.

Herald with AP, online media

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