Venezuela leaders and opposition explore possibility of new talks
Venezuela's government and opposition leaders have said they would send representatives in response to an invitation from the Dominican Republic to explore the possibility of resuming talks on resolving the country's political upheaval.
Former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Dominican foreign minister Miguel Vargas sent the invitation earlier in the day encouraging Venezuelan government leaders and opposition members to participate in a new round of dialogue.
President Nicolas Maduro responded hours later on state television, telling Venezuelans he was accepting the invitation and sending a delegation almost immediately.
The opposition's main coalition issued a tepid statement warning that no new dialogue had begun, but saying it was sending a delegation after an invitation from the Dominican president to discuss conditions needed for serious dialogue.
"To enter a serious negotiation we demand immediate action that shows a true willingness to resolve national problems and not to buy time," the Democratic Unity Roundtable said in its statement.
No timetable was released for the proposed discussions.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said he fully supports the call for a new round of talks between the government and opposition.
"The secretary general encourages the Venezuelan political actors to seize this opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to address the country's challenges through mediation and peaceful means," Mr Guterres' office said in a statement.
The opposition walked out of Vatican-sponsored talks last year. It accused Venezuela's socialist government of not fulfilling pledges that the opposition claims were made at the bargaining table, including setting a timetable for elections and freeing political prisoners.
Since then, the political crisis has escalated, with four months of near-daily anti-government protests that began in April and resulted in at least 120 deaths. Opposition protests have sputtered since the installation of a powerful, pro-government constitutional assembly in early August that is targeting Mr Maduro's political foes and ruling with nearly unlimited power.
Mr Maduro has repeatedly urged the opposition to resume talks, but anti-government leaders have refused. They contend Mr Maduro has become a dictator squashing any dissent and say he should be removed from power rather than negotiated with. They are demanding the government respect institutions like the opposition-controlled congress, free political prisoners and allow humanitarian aid to flow into a country with crippling food and medical shortages.
The opposition is also demanding that delayed regional elections now scheduled for October and a presidential vote slated for 2018 proceed as outlined in the constitution.
Mr Zapatero has been travelling to Venezuela for months trying to secure the release of jailed opposition leaders and restart dialogue between the government and opposition. In their invitation Tuesday, Mr Zapatero and Mr Vargas said they were convinced there was still an opportunity to achieve a peaceful resolution.
They said any talks should be conducted with "maximum respect for the principles of democracy, human rights, social commitment and national sovereignty".