CARACAS: Venezuela’s government Monday proposed talks to ease the country’s political crisis after Pope Francis intervened, but an opposition leader branded it a ploy by President Nicolas Maduro to cling to power.
The move had aimed to calm tensions after the opposition accused the socialist president of staging a “coup d’etat” by blocking its bid for a vote on removing him.
But the opposition said Maduro had jumped the gun by announcing the talks before terms had been agreed. One leader accused him of taking advantage of the pope’s “good faith.”
Months of tension that have included riots and looting threatened to boil over after authorities enraged the opposition last week by annulling its drive for a recall referendum.
Maduro had a private audience with the pope at the Vatican on Monday. He said afterwards that the pope supported the opening of a “formal dialogue” between government and opposition.
Papal envoy Emil Paul Tscherrig said separately in Caracas that both sides had launched a “national dialogue.” He said they aimed to formally open talks on October 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita.
The opposition MUD coalition later insisted it had not agreed to those terms, though it welcomed the Vatican’s efforts to help. It said in a statement separately that it would only enter talks if the government respected the right to a referendum and freed political prisoners, among other demands.
Maduro has repeatedly refused to allow a referendum.
The MUD statement also said any talks should take place in the capital Caracas, “in the public eye.”
The opposition members who hold a majority in the legislature had vowed to debate on Tuesday whether to mount a “political trial” against the president.
They also vowed massive nationwide street protests on Wednesday.