Venezuela: Elias Jaua meets Ban Ki-moon

Venezuela’s foreign minister will meet the UN’s Ban Ki-moon amid calls to ease the nation's worst unrest.

A man holds a Venezuelan national flag next to a barricade during an anti-government demo in Caracas on 21 February 2014. Picture: AFP

CARACAS - Venezuela said on Saturday its foreign minister will meet United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva on Tuesday amid growing international calls for dialogue between political players to ease the OPEC nation's worst unrest in a decade.

At least 17 people have died in violence during a month of opposition protests. President Nicolas Maduro says his foes are trying to trigger a coup, while his opponents accuse troops and pro-government militants of attacking demonstrators.

Appeals for the two camps to sit down for talks have poured in from leaders around the world, including in the United States, and from Pope Francis.

Venezuela's permanent representative to the United Nations, Jorge Valero, said on Saturday that the secretary general asked for a meeting with Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on Tuesday at the side-lines of a gathering of the UN Human Rights Council.

"He will have the opportunity to explain the policies for peace and promotion of dialogue that the government is pushing, and to denounce the terrorist plans that have been developing in Venezuela," Valero told Noticias24 Radio in Caracas.

Maduro's socialist administration blames what it calls opposition-led "fascist groups" for unrest the authorities say is aimed at triggering a coup like the one in 2002 that briefly ousted his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has called for an independent investigation into the recent deaths, and said on Friday that inflammatory rhetoric from both sides was unhelpful and risked escalating a tense situation.

"It is time for all sides to move beyond verbal aggression and towards meaningful dialogue," Pillay said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he is discussing with Colombia and other nations the possibility of international mediation in Venezuela.

'MADURO'S TOO COMMUNIST'

To try to ease the crisis, Maduro has been holding talks with business and church leaders and some anti-government politicians; though the main opposition figures such as two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles have boycotted them.

They say they don't want to provide the government with a "photo op," though the 51-year-old president again offered on Friday to hold discussions with them - in public or private.

Opposition protesters are demanding that Maduro quit over grievances that include high inflation, shocking rate of violent crime, shortage of basic foods in stores, and what they call his heavy-handed repression of political rivals.

About a thousand opposition protesters gathered in the Santa Monica neighbourhood of the capital Caracas on Saturday, beeping car and motorcycle horns, and waving placards bearing slogans such as "I'm swapping Carnival 2014 for a free Venezuela!"

"I want democracy," said opposition supporter Nora Duenas, 69, as she stood in the open door of her car while banging together cooking implements above her head.

"I want us to be able to live together in a democratic country where everyone has the freedom to think what they want - but without Maduro, because he's too Communist."

The opposition demonstrators are also demanding the release of protesters detained during this month's unrest.

"Venezuela is united in indignation," hard-line opposition leader Maria Corina Machado told Reuters at the rally.