Vatican-sponsored talks between government and opposition parties in Venezuela are to continue with both parties committed to moderating public comments. A US envoy has joined the discussions.
Committees to address the devastated economy, electoral schedule, human rights and the rule of law have been set up following initial talks between government representatives and some political party opponents.
The talks are to be mediated by a Vatican envoy and former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic, all of whom were at Sunday's meeting together with President Nicolas Maduro at a museum in the capital, Caracas. Vatican envoy Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli called the talks "very positive."
The first talks aimed at defusing Venezuela's political conflict around efforts to remove Maduro had been wrapped up early on Monday morning after six hours of discussions.
Jesus Torrealba, head of the opposition coalition, said "concrete and immediate action in the coming days with respect to the release of political prisoners" was essential for the talks to continue. While four opposition parties have joined the talks, the Popular Will party is among those who have not, claiming the government does not respect human rights.
Maduro has been accused of creating a dictatorship by blocking a recall referendum on his rule and illegally overriding the legislature, which was taken over by the opposition in a landslide election last year.
Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress is holding a trial of Maduro, aiming to declare him politically responsible for the country's crisis and to formally declare that he has violated democratic principles. Maduro has been invited by the lawmakers to present his defense on Tuesday, when Venezuela's congress puts Maduro on trial.
The opposition is also scheduled to march to the presidential palace this week.
However, the president claims he is a victim of opposition conspiracies to overthrow him and of an "economic war" led by businesses with the backing of Washington. "We're giving a chance to disarm the hatred, the intolerance, and open the door to love among the Venezuelans," Maduro said in televised remarks.
US envoy joins the talks
On Monday, Tom Shannon, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (photo) arrived in Caracas to join the dialogue.
In an earlier statement, the State Department announced: "His visit will underscore our support for the ongoing dialogue process, and our interest in the well-being of the Venezuelan people."
Shannon has been involved in efforts to reduce tension between Caracas and Washington over the last two years.
Maduro told reporters his talk with Shannon was "very positive."
jm/kl (AP, Reuters, EFE)