Venezuelan opposition leader to meet Nicolas Maduro as rallies grow

Henrique Capriles bows to president's call for talks, saying he wants solutions, not conflict

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:37am

Venezuela's opposition has agreed to meet President Nicolas Maduro as anti-government protesters and security forces clashed in Caracas for an 11th straight night.

Governor Henrique Capriles, standing with the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, said at a rally he was prepared to meet Maduro today. The two-time presidential hopeful had said he would not be forced into dialogue after Maduro warned there would be legal consequences to missing the meeting.

"We don't want confrontation, we want solutions," Capriles, who lost to Maduro in April elections by the narrowest margin in 45 years, said at the rally in Caracas. "The government of Nicolas Maduro that we are seeing is a historic error, but we can't get out of this mistake by making another one."

Anti-government demonstrations have been continuing since Lopez's Voluntad Popular party on February 12 organised marches to protest against rising crime, the world's fastest inflation and shortages of everything from milk to medicine. The protests have turned violent on a nightly basis as police clash with students, resulting in 10 deaths.

Maduro, the hand-picked successor of Hugo Chavez who died last March after 14 years in power, has vowed to protect his government and keep National Guard troops out in force.

In Caracas on Saturday, tens of thousands of opponents of the president filled several blocks in their biggest rally to date against his government. At the presidential palace, Maduro addressed a much-smaller crowd of mostly female supporters dressed in the red of his socialist party.

A few small clashes that erupted between government opponents and state security forces after the opposition rally broke up looked violent but resulted in only five injuries.

In a pattern seen in past demonstrations, dozens of stragglers erected barricades of trash and other debris and threw rocks and bottles at police and National Guardsmen. Troops responded with volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent the students from reaching a highway.

There were also clashes in San Cristobal, a remote city on the western border with Colombia that has seen some of the worst violence, but most opposition marches across the country ended peacefully.

The protests claimed their 10th fatality when a student in the city of Valencia was pronounced dead after surgery for brain injuries suffered at a demonstration earlier in the week.

Additional reporting by Associated Press



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