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Dialogue continues between rival sides in Venezuela

Political rivals in Venezuela have moved into day two of talks as they debate how to stabilize a country hit by shortages. Neither side seems optimistic, as the opposition insists on a recall vote against the president.

 

Venezuela's opposition and the government of President Nicolas Maduro have agreed to a second day of talks as part of a dialogue process meant to ease a political standoff amid the country's spiraling economic crisis. The face-to-face talks, which began late on Friday, could determine whether the sides maintain their fragile dialogue or the oil-rich Caribbean country returns to antagonism and instability.

"Progress was made on key agreements, the exact contents of which will be revealed" at the end of the meetings, Ernesto Samper, secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), said after four hours of talks.

The Vatican-backed talks are set to resume at 10:00 a.m. (1400UTC) Saturday for a second round.

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Soaring inflation

Mass street protests erupted after authorities last month blocked the opposition's bid to hold a referendum on removing Maduro from office. Opposition MUD coalition leader Jesus Torrealba warned his side would seek early elections if Maduro kept refusing a referendum.

 "The MUD is seeking an electoral solution to this crisis through the negotiating table," Torrealba said. "Venezuela is a pressure cooker. The recall vote was an escape valve, and the government sealed it up."

Under constitutional rules, the opposition must secure a referendum before January 10 if it wants to remove Maduro. Otherwise, his coalition could hold power until 2019. Venezuela is rich in oil but short of nearly everything else - including food. An economic crisis sparked by falling crude prices has led to shortages of basic supplies and soaring inflation. Maduro, who was elected president in 2013 after the death of leftist leader Hugo Chavez, calls the situation the result of an "economic war" led by the opposition in efforts to unseat him.

jar/tj (AFP, Reuters)

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