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Venezuela opposition demands Vatican-led talks with Maduro be public

By
Andrew V. Pestano
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, seen here being greeted by a Vatican representative, met with Pope Francis on Monday during a surprise visit to the Vatican. The Vatican announced it would mediate talks between Maduro's regime and the Venezuelan opposition. Photo courtesy of Prensa Presidencial
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, seen here being greeted by a Vatican representative, met with Pope Francis on Monday during a surprise visit to the Vatican. The Vatican announced it would mediate talks between Maduro's regime and the Venezuelan opposition. Photo courtesy of Prensa Presidencial

CARACAS, Venezuela, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The Venezuelan opposition has demanded that any talks with President Nicolas Maduro's regime be held publicly in Caracas after the Vatican announced mediation.

The Vatican announced Monday that along with the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, it would mediate crisis talks between Maduro and the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, opposition coalition after Maduro met with Pope Francis.

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Maduro's visit and the arbitration announcement came as a surprise to some in the opposition. Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig, one of Francis' Vatican representatives, met with the opposition in Caracas and said the opposition and government representatives agreed to meet in Margarita Island on Sunday.

Following the announcement, the opposition downplayed the significance talks would have if no action is taken. Last week, the opposition's efforts to recall Maduro through a national referendum were indefinitely suspended by the National Electoral Council, or CNE -- an act the opposition deemed an unconstitutional coup d'etat.

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The CNE's move was preceded by Venezuela's highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, ruling that the opposition needed to receive petition signatures from 20 percent of the population of each of Venezuela's 23 states, instead of 20 percent of Venezuela's national electorate.

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On Sunday during an emergency session of Venezuela's National Assembly, pro-Maduro protesters stormed the chamber after pushing back security guards.

"For democratic Venezuelans it constitutes as a triumph the presence of the Vatican in the Venezuelan conflict," the MUD said in a statement late Monday. "The presence of the representative of the pope in Venezuela occurs precisely when the regime judicially kidnapped the recall referendum and when violent groups of the ruling party savagely attacked the legislative palace."

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The MUD said the Vatican's entry into the conflict "gives us strength and support in this new phase of the struggle."

The MUD called for dialogue with Maduro's regime to be transparent.

"We confirm that any process of dialogue for us has four main objectives: Respect for the right to vote; freedom for political prisoners and return of exiles; care for victims of the humanitarian crisis and respect for the autonomy of the powers," the MUD added.

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The South American country is facing a political and economic crisis where basic goods such as food and medicine are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable. The United Nation's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean predicts Venezuela's gross domestic product will decrease 4 percent in 2017.

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