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Talks between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition make headway

The Maduro government and the political opposition have agreeded to a third round of talks. But their contradictory demands could mean a concrete agreement to end Venezuela's political strife remains far off.

Two days of exploratory talks between the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the political opposition have proved productive, Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina said Thursday in Santo Domingo.

Medina and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero are overseeing the talks between delegations from the Venezuelan government and the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) in the Caribbean capital with the aim of easing the political and economic crisis that has paralyzed the oil-rich country with food and medicine shortages, inflation, and violent protests.

Read more: Who makes up Venezuela's political opposition?

Dominican president Medina (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Barria)

Dominican President Medina headed up the Venezuela exploratory talks in Santo Domingo

"Yesterday's meeting was good and today's even better," Medina told reporters in a brief statement after the conclusion of Wednesday and Thursday's all-day conversations. "We made progress in defining an agenda of Venezuela's problems."

It was not clear whether Maduro's representatives and those from the opposition talked face-to-face or whether Medina and Zapatero relayed messages between the two parties. 

The Dominican president also announced that the opposing sides in Venezuela's conflict had agreed to allow other Central and South American governments to observe the next round of talks that are now set to continue on September 27.

"A commission of friendly countries that will serve as a monitoring commission was agreed on, and includes Mexico, Chile, Bolivia and Nicaragua." Medina added that two more countries would likely join the monitoring group in the upcoming days.

Listen to audio 06:29

WorldLink: Venezuelans turn to Chile for a new life

Bolivia and Nicaragua are friendly with the government of Nicolas Maduro, who took power in 2013 as the successor to socialist revolutionary Hugo Chavez. Mexico has spoken out against Maduro's increasingly repressive rule while the Chilean embassy in Caracas has provided asylum to opposition-supported lawyers that Maduro had threatened with arrest.

Read more: What is going on in Venezuela?

Opposition still skeptical

The head of the delegation for the Maduro government also said the talks had made headway and re-emphasized that it is open to a compromise with the MUD opposition.

"This has been the strongest and clearest opportunity we've had toward reaching an agreement," Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez said.

However, a MUD statement released Thursday made clear that any eventual agreement must be put to the Venezuelan people in the form of a popular referendum. It added that an agreement must include certain "indispensable points," such as the establishment of a timeline for new presidential elections under international observation and a return to constitutional normalcy.

"Only with a non-violent, democratic change will it be possible to overcome the current economic and social tragedy that affects all Venezuelans" the MUD statement read.

MUD has demanded consistently that Maduro step down from power and restore the power of Venezuela's National Assembly. Maduro stripped the legislative body of power last July after elections took place for a new body, the Constituent Assembly, that consists of Maduro loyalists and has been tasked with re-writing the constitution.

Over 120 people have been killed over the past months as Maduro opponents and government police have clashed on the streets. The Venezuelan government has also jailed opponents, including various leading figures in the opposition.

The exploratory talks in the Dominican Republic came after Vatican-led negotiations in 2016 collapsed.

Watch video 01:03

Hunger crisis hits Venezuela

cmb/kms (EFE, AP, AFP)

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