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Venezuela government, opposition agree to pursue crisis talks

Representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido met from Monday to Wednesday in the Caribbean island nation for negotiations, which Maduro has hailed as successful.

FILE: This handout picture released by the Venezuelan presidency press office shows Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during a meeting with doctors in Caracas, Venezuela on 21 February 2019. Picture: AFP

CARACAS - Venezuela's government and opposition have agreed to set up a platform for ongoing negotiations to resolve the country's simmering political crisis after three days of talks in Barbados, mediator nation Norway said Thursday.

Representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido met from Monday to Wednesday in the Caribbean island nation for negotiations, which Maduro has hailed as successful.

The Barbados talks were an extension of the first round of negotiations in Oslo in May, which ended with no concrete advances.

"After an intense day of work, we developed six points with the government of Norway and the opposition," Maduro said Thursday in a television and radio interview, though he did not specify what the points were.

Earlier, Norway's Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said in a statement that the two sides had established a negotiation table that will "work in a continuous and efficient manner to reach an agreed-upon solution within the framework of the Constitution."

"It is foreseen that the parties will carry out consultations in order to advance the negotiations," the statement added.

Venezuelan government negotiator Hector Rodriguez said he anticipated a "complex path," but one that leads to an "agreement of democratic co-existence" where each side recognizes the other.

Guaido representative Stalin Gonzalez said on Twitter that Venezuelans need "answers and results," and said his delegation would "make consultations toward progress and putting an end to the suffering."

Crisis-wracked Venezuela has been mired in a political impasse since January when Guaido proclaimed himself acting president, quickly receiving the support of more than 50 countries.

The oil-rich, cash-poor country has been in a deep recession for five years. Shortages of food and medicine are frequent, and public services are progressively failing.

Around a quarter of Venezuela's 30-million-strong population are in need of aid, according to the United Nations. Three million people have left the country since the start of 2016.

Guaido and the opposition accused Maduro of having rigged the 2018 poll that saw him re-elected, and they describe the socialist leader as a "usurper."

They want him to stand down so new elections can be held.

But Maduro's right-hand man Diosdado Cabello on Wednesday ruled out early elections.

"They say: the government's going to Barbados because there are going to be presidential elections in I don't know how long and the candidates are X and Y," he told state television channel VTV.

"Here there are no presidential elections, here the president's name is Nicolas Maduro," said Cabello, who heads the pro-regime Constituent Assembly and is considered the country's second most powerful politician.

Before the talks began on Monday, Guaido had said the opposition would attend "to establish a negotiation on the end of the dictatorship."

After they began, Maduro said he was "optimistic ... we can find a path to peace."

The Norwegian minister urged both parties to show "utmost caution in their comments and statements about the process."

The Barbados talks almost did not take place as Guaido had said last week that they would not resume following the suspicious death of an officer in custody over an alleged coup plot.

Some in the opposition are opposed to negotiations, believing they may reinvigorate Maduro, but Guaido urged them to have faith, insisting that everything was designed to bring about an "end to the usurpation, a transitional government and free elections."

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