Venezuela's President Maduro tells opposition: talk or face consequences

President orders governors to attend talks or face 'consequences' amid rival demonstrations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 11:46am

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told opposition governors to take part in talks he called for this week or face "consequences", as Caracas residents prepared for rival rallies today.

Opponents of Venezuela's leftist government prepared for a mass protest rally in Caracas, while pro-government "Chavista women" are scheduled to march "against fascism".

At least nine people have been killed, 104 injured and 137 arrested in weeks of street demonstrations that begin peacefully and often turn violent.

Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state and the main opposition leader, has called on marchers to focus on demanding that authorities disarm progovernment "collectives" that have been blamed for attacking demonstrators.

Maduro, addressing the nation from the presidential palace, said opposition groups were trying to overthrow his government, backed by the political "right" in Latin America and the United States. As he spoke, shots and protests broke out in several Caracas neighbourhoods and the smell of burning rubbish filled the air in Altamira, a centre of demonstrations in the capital.

"There is a campaign to demonise, to isolate, the Bolivarian revolution," Maduro said, sitting in front of a portrait of late president Hugo Chavez.

"It's an international campaign that is trying to divide Latin America."

Maduro, who denies any links to the armed groups, says the protests are part of a "coup d'état in development" instigated by Washington and conservative former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

On Friday, Maduro challenged Obama to meet him for talks.

"I call a dialogue with you, President Obama ... between the patriotic and revolutionary Venezuela and the United States and its government," he said.

"Accept the challenge and we will start a high-level dialogue and put the truth on the table," Maduro told a news conference with foreign reporters.

Caracas and Washington have not exchanged ambassadors since their respective envoys were withdrawn in 2010. Venezuela has expelled eight US diplomats over the past year, including three on February 16.

Maduro proposed to restore ties to the ambassadorial level and said he had given his foreign minister "special powers" to handle talks.

In a move filled with anti-American sentiment, Maduro has threatened to block US broadcaster CNN, accusing the network of inciting "civil war" with its coverage of the protests.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Bloomberg