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Venezuela's political rivals agree on talks

Venezuela's main opposition group and President Nicolas Maduro's government have agreed to begin talks to end months of unrest. South American foreign ministers and the Vatican will mediate.

Key leaders of Venezuela's opposition agreed to enter mediated talks with President Maduro. This follows two months of

anti-government protests which claimed 39 lives.

Leaders of the broad Democratic Unity alliance agreed to take part after receiving assurances from diplomats of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and the Vatican late on Tuesday, local time.

Another opposition party Popular Will led by jailed hardliner Leopold Lopez rejected the talks as a "political show" and called for the release of detained activists.

Flanked by the foreign diplomats, Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza said breakthrough came at cordial talks.

The full consultations, tentatively scheduled to begin on Thursday, are to be overseen by UNASUR, a regional South American group.

Maduro: Socialism to remain

Maduro, the successor to the deceased populist Hugo Chavez, cautioned however that there would be no change to Venezuela's socialist model of government.

"I would be a traitor if I embarked on negotiating the revolution," Maduro said.

The Democratic Unity opposition grouping has demanded the dissolution of armed government-aligned civilian groups known as "colectivos" and a the formation of a commission to

probe the violence.

Since February the protests involving students have focused on soaring crime, high inflation and shortages of basic household goods after 15 years of socialist rule.

Dozens of student demonstrators remain detained.

ipj/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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