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Opposition blames deaths in Venezuela on pro-government forces

Feb. 22, 2014 at 11:16 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed pro-government vigilantes Saturday for a mounting death toll in ongoing protests in several cities.

An unofficial count indicated 11 people have been killed in violence associated with protests whose leaders say Maduro's socialist government is a dictatorship, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Liliana Tintori -- whose husband, Leopoldo Lopez, a former Caracas city official -- told a crowd in Caracas her husband's arrest and imprisonment this week on a charge of inciting violence was unjust.

"No one can tell me this is not a dictatorship," she said.

"No one can tell me we are divided," she said. "We are united."

Maduro said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been "insolent" toward Venezuela. Kerry has called the Maduro government's use of force against protesters "unacceptable."

Maduro said Friday U.S. President Barack Obama should hold talks with him that would "put the truth out on the table."

His comments during a news conference came after he revoked, and then restored, press credentials for CNN, the BBC reported Saturday.

"Let's initiate a high-level dialogue and let's put the truth out on the table," Maduro said.

The talks would be "difficult and complex," he said, until Washington accepted "the full autonomy and independence of Latin America."

Earlier Friday, Venezuela revoked the credentials of seven reporters for CNN International and CNN in Espanol.

Maduro had accused the network of "hostile coverage" and of conducting "war propaganda."

During the Friday press event, however, Maduro reversed the decision, calling on CNN to "find a balance" in its reporting.

In a televised speech Thursday, Maduro complained CNN was not showing "the people working, studying, building the homeland."

CNN defended its reporting following the revocation.

"CNN has reported both sides of the tense situation in Venezuela, even with very limited access to government officials," the network said in a statement. "We hope the government will reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, we will continue reporting on Venezuela in the fair, accurate and balanced manner we are known for."

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