In Venezuela President Maduro meets opposition as crisis escalates

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition has stepped up protests since authorities scuttled its push for a referendum.

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting in Caracas on October 28, 2016 play

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting in Caracas on October 28, 2016

(AFP)
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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sat down on Sunday with members of the opposition and foreign mediators, a gesture his foes suspect is a time-wasting tactic to ease pressure on the unpopular socialist leader.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition has stepped up protests since authorities scuttled its push for a referendum this year on Maduro's rule, which opinion polls showed he would have lost, triggering a presidential election.

Critics say 17 years of socialist rule have wrecked the OPEC nation's economy and crushed democracy, while the government says a U.S.-backed elite is seeking a coup.

Maduro, 53, who narrowly won election to succeed Hugo Chavez in 2013, arrived mid-evening for the meeting at a Caracas museum and greeted opposition leaders including coalition secretary-general Jesus Torrealba and opposition governor Henri Falcon.

Also attending were a Vatican envoy, representatives of the Unasur regional bloc, and three former heads of state or government from Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

The opposition is demanding revival of the plebiscite, freedom for political prisoners, help for victims of Venezuela's "humanitarian crisis," and respect for the opposition-led National Assembly.

The opposition delegation promised to "demand an end to the repression and persecution of democrats and the people, and will walk away from the dialogue if the demands are not resolved in the short term," the coalition said in a statement.

The hardline opposition Popular Will party of jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez abstained from the talks.

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