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As opposition girds in Venezuela, Maduro makes concession

  • Published at 02:45 pm January 30th, 2019
Nicolas Maduro
A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a banner depicting him as he takes part in a gathering outside the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela January 26, 2019 Reuters

Maduro won a second six-year term last year in elections that the domestic opposition and many foreign countries have dismissed as rigged

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he is willing to negotiate with the opposition and hold early congressional elections, in a concession as opponents plan another big demonstration.

"I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table with the opposition so that we could talk for the good of Venezuela," Maduro told Russia's RIA Novosti in an interview in Caracas, the agency reported Wednesday.

"It would be very good to conduct parliamentary elections at an earlier stage. It would be a good form of political discussion," Maduro said, according to the Russian state news agency.  

But at the same time he dismissed the possibility of holding a new presidential poll any time soon.

"Presidential elections in Venezuela have taken place, and if imperialists want new elections let them wait until 2025," he said in an apparent reference to Washington.

His comments still appeared to be a concession in a long standoff as Maduro braves a tide of criticism in which the leader of congress and major countries led by the US press for Maduroto yield power in the oil-rich country beset by an acute economic crisis, crime and other woes.

Maduro won a second six-year term last year in elections that the domestic opposition and many foreign countries have dismissed as rigged.

Venezuela's opposition plans protests Wednesday to urge the military, the lynchpin of Maduro's beleaguered regime, to dump him in favour of self-declared interim leader Juan Guaido.

The 35-year-old head of the opposition controlled national assembly has called on Venezuelans to take to the streets for two hours starting at noon 1600 GMT, banging pots and waving placards in the latest spasm of anger in the oil-rich country reduced to chaos, crime and poverty.

"Venezuela has risen up to dream of the country we want to be," said Guaido, a previously little known figure who has growing international support including that of the US.

"We must take to the street," he said.

In an interview with the German daily Bild he called on EU countries to impose more sanctions on Maduro's government. 

With this protest Guaido is also stressing an offer of amnesty to military people who abandon Maduro, thus seeking to undermine a key pillar of the president's regime.

He is also seeking to promote the entry of aid in a country struggling with shortages of just about everything - from food and medicine to soap and even toilet paper.

Maduro has said such assistance would be the first step toward a US military intervention. 

Guaido said this week that Wednesday's demonstrations are designed to "demand that the armed forces side with the people." He has been recognized by the US and other major countries as Venezuela's interim leader.

Guaido says that under the constitution he is entitled to this position because, he says, Maduro usurped power with a bogus win in elections late last year to win another six-year term.  

"The regime is in its final throes," said Guaido. He said another big protest has been convened for Saturday.

That is also the deadline set by six European countries for Maduro, a former bus driver handpicked by the late socialist icon Hugo Chavez, to call new elections.

'Serious consequences'

Guaido stormed onto the political stage as a virtual unknown on January 3, when he was sworn in as the president of the National Assembly, a body that had been largely neutralized by the Supreme Court.

On January 23, he declared himself the country's acting president and vowed to lead a transitional government that would hold democratic elections.

To keep up the pressure, he has called mass demonstrations against the government this week, and has appealed to the powerful military to change sides, offering amnesty to those who do.

At least 40 people have been killed in clashes with security forces nationwide and at least 850 arrested since January 21 when a brief military rebellion was put down in Caracas, according to the UN human rights office in Geneva.

'Blood on his hands'

A furious Maduro, 56, said Trump would have "blood all over his hands" if violence breaks out in Venezuela.

In a tweet, he urged the opposition to "ignore the imperialist calls" and reiterated his offer of dialogue to Guaido. He has previously accused the US of trying to orchestrate a coup.

The oil-rich country is already reeling from a deep economic crisis that has pushed millions into poverty and driven 2.3 million more to migrate.

Hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine and failing public services has spread misery, undermining support for a leftist regime that has held power for two decades.

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