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South America

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro backs talks with reluctant opposition

The Venezuelan president has described himself as a "promoter" of dialogue with the opposition. Opposition lawmakers have refused to endorse the talks without preconditions, saying "time for symbolic gestures" is over.

Exploratory talks to possibly reconcile an ongoing political crisis between Venezuela's government and the opposition movement are expected to start on Wednesday in the Dominican Republic.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday announced the possibility of the talks during a televised cabinet meeting, saying he accepted the invitation made by Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina and former Spanish premier Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero.

Read more: 5 things to know about oil-rich, cash-poor Venezuela

"Zapatero and President Medina know very well that I have been a promoter of this dialogue and I accept this new day of dialogue," said Maduro.

'Symbolic gestures'

Venezuela's opposition has made clear that Maduro's government must first adhere to preconditions before it would join talks. However, the opposition alliance Democratic Unity Roundtable, which comprises lawmakers and political leaders, said it will send a representative to the Dominican Republic to explore the framework for talks.

Opposition lawmakers pulled out of Vatican-backed talks last year, saying the government failed to free political prisoners and prepare elections, which formed part of an agreement for dialogue.

Read more: What is going on in Venezuela?

"The time for symbolic gestures is over," said the alliance said in a statement. "To enter into serious negotiation, we demand immediate actions that demonstrate a real willingness to resolve the national problems and not to win time."

'Seize this opportunity'

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he supports the move to bring both parties in the political crisis to the negotiating table.

Read more: Is Cuba really pulling the strings in Venezuela?

"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," said a statement from Guterres's office.

More than 120 people have been killed in anti-government protests triggered by the Supreme Court's attempt to strip the opposition-dominated National Assembly of power. Maduro has failed to redress a widening economic recession that has resulted in chronic shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.

In August, a newly-formed constituent assembly seized power from the legislature, heightening tensions between the government and the opposition movement. Several countries, including Germany and France, have refused to accept the pro-government body as a legitimate part of the government.

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ls/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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