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Venezuela is to hold talks with opposition, Vatican to act as mediator

Venezuela is to hold talks with opposition, Vatican to act as mediatorVenezuela's government and its opposition are to meet for crisis talks, the Vatican says, after an intervention from Pope Francis, BBC reported on Tuesday.

Protests have been held in recent days over the suspension of a referendum process seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro.

The surprise move came after President Maduro met Pope Francis in an unannounced visit. The Vatican and regional bloc Unasur will mediate in the talks.

Pope Francis "urged [the parties] to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue", the Vatican said in a statement.

After meeting representatives from both sides, the Vatican's envoy to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherrig, said "a national dialogue" had already started. He said they had agreed to formal talks on Sunday on Margarita island in the Caribbean.

President Maduro said "at last" dialogue could begin.

The head of the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, who met Tscherrig, said while talks were important "it can't continue to be a strategy for the government to win time".

Another top opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, dismissed the announcement as a diversionary ploy. "No dialogue has begun in Venezuela," he said.

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela's dire economic situation. The oil-rich country is facing widespread food shortages and spiralling inflation.

The opposition is trying to hold a recall referendum that would allow Maduro to be removed from office but electoral authorities suspended the process last week. The official reason was allegations of fraud during the gathering of signatures for the first petition required to enable the referendum.

Now it seems both parties have agreed to start negotiations with the mediation of the Vatican.

The first Latin American pope seems to be very engaged with Venezuela's crisis. The Vatican is respected by both sides and Pope Francis has proven a successful mediator before, helping restart diplomatic relations between Cuba and USA.

But the negotiations could be tough as the differences between the parts appear huge. The red line for the opposition is the recall referendum. The government says that the main topic should be the economy. Right now an agreement seems to be a miracle. But the Vatican is working on it.
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