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Venezuela

Venezuelan parties seek 'peaceful' route

Venezuela's government and opposition have reached tentative deals via mediators to peacefully resolve the nation's deepening crisis. A Vatican envoy says priority will be given to tackling food and medicine shortages.

Vatican envoy Claudio Maria Celli said Saturday's preliminary deals amounted to a "road map" aimed at normalizing constitutional relationships in Venezuela after mass protests last month against President Nicolas Maduro.

"We solemnly agree that our political differences can only be settled strictly within the framework of the constitution, and along a democratic, peaceful and electoral path," said representatives of both sides in a joint statement.

The parties agreed to meet again on December 6, and to broaden the talks to include representatives of trade unions, the private sector and two state governors.

Venezuela Nicolas Maduro (picture alliance/abaca/C. Becerra )

Maduro: Clinging to power?

Among the pledges are promises to hold new elections in the state of Amazonas to choose replacements for three National Assembly deputies who were dismissed for alleged vote buying.

The parties also agreed to "work together" on adding two seats to the National Electoral Council after opposition claims that it was stacked with Maduro loyalists.

More food, medicines

Celli said the delegates agreed on the need to give priority to increasing the supply of food and medicine through stepped-up production and imports.

The talks had begun on Friday, with the secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Ernesto Samper (pictured left above with Celli), predicting "progress."

Opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition leader Jesus Torrealba warned Saturday that his side could still press for early elections if Maduro continued to reject the holding of a referendum on whether he should be removed from office.

Venezuela Treffen Regierung und Opposition (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Hernandez)

MUD leader Torrealba wants fresh elections

MUD negotiator Carlos Ocariz said both sides had agreed to the release of political prisoners and jailed activists, but gave no specifics.

The two sides had declared a "truce" at a first meeting 11 days ago and agreed to resume talks, which began on Friday.

The mediation effort includes former presidents acting as sponsors: Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, Martin Torrijos of Panama and Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic.

Opponents charge that Venezuela became a dictatorship last month when electoral authorities blocked a recall campaign against Maduro.

Violence still a risk

Venezuela is rich in oil but short of food. Its distribution is controlled by the military but hobbled by theft and black marketeering.

The opposition accuses Maduro of mismanagement. The president contends the crisis has resulted from a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

Violent unrest remains a risk, say analysts. A massive opposition demonstration on October 27 outside Venezuela's congress drew hundreds of thousands.

Anti-government riots in 2014 led to the deaths of 43 people.

Maduro has the backing of Venezuela's military high command and controls most of the nation's state institutions.

ipj/tj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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