Venezuelan leaders in crisis talks over end to deadly violence

41 have died and 650 people have been injured since the protests began

Caracas

Inside the Miraflores Palace, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro was holding crisis talks with opposition leaders aimed at quelling weeks of violence and unrest in which 41 people have been killed. Away from the gilded palace, however, the death toll from weeks of protests continued to rise when a police officer was shot dead.

The meeting late on Thursday, and symbolic handshake, was the first to include Mr Maduro’s main rival Henrique Capriles, whom he narrowly beat in last year’s presidential election. The six-hour talks were also the first to be brokered by foreign ministers from the Unasur bloc of South American governments.

Both sides have agreed to meet again next week. They have both asked the Roman Catholic Church to be a “good faith” witness to the next round of talks.

Mr Capriles warned that the unrest would escalate in the absence of political reforms. “The road here was long and complicated, but it was worth it,” said Mr Maduro in his lengthy opening comments. But he cautioned against unrealistic expectations, saying: “There are no negotiations here. No pacts. All we are looking for is a model of peaceful coexistence, of mutual tolerance.”

Public support for both Mr Maduro and the opposition have fallen. And Venezuela’s already slowing economy has suffered from the impact of violent clashes on businesses and transport. Dozens of anti-Maduro demonstrators remain in jail and some hard-line opposition groups, including the party of the jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, boycotted the talks, which were broadcast live on every television channel.

Officials said a policeman was shot dead during protests in the western city of Barquisimeto, and opposition activists said a woman died in hospital almost a month after being hit by a car while demonstrating in central Valencia. Those fatalities brought the death toll to 41. About 650 people have been injured since the protests broke out in early February, and more than 2,000 people have been detained. Of them, at least 170 are still behind bars.

A woman holds a candle as she protests against Venenzuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas A woman holds a candle as she protests against Venenzuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas (Getty Images)
Mr Capriles, defeated in last year’s ballot to replace Hugo Chávez, was one of the last to speak. He told the foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador that Venezuela was crippled by violence, economic misery and political polarisation. “We don’t want a coup d’état. We don’t want an explosion on the streets,” Mr Capriles said. “Either this situation changes, or it bursts. I hope it changes because I don’t want violence.”

The National Assembly leader, Diosdado Cabello, was sitting across the table from Mr Capriles, and described him as “the fascist assassin” on Twitter. “He doesn’t understand he lost the election [in 2013],” Mr Cabello also tweeted.

On Thursday, the Vatican’s envoy to Venezuela read a letter from Pope Francis, who said the talks were the only path to peace. “It is a long and difficult road, which requires patience and courage, but it is the only one that can bring peace and justice,” the Pope said, according to a copy of the letter distributed by the Vatican yesterday.

Opposition supporters hold candles as they take part in a rally against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas Opposition supporters hold candles as they take part in a rally against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas (Reuters)
Mr Maduro, who calls himself the “son” of Chávez and is seeking to preserve the country’s oil-funded welfare policies, said ahead of the meeting he would talk but not negotiate.

Hard-line protesters have sought to provoke a “Venezuelan spring” that would force Mr Maduro from office, launching roadblocks, marches and other protest tactics in some cities.

Mr Maduro’s six-year term ends in 2019. Liborio Guarulla, opposition governor of the southern state of Amazonas, told the meeting people should not think the start of talks would solve problems overnight. “We won’t make miracles with this. The economy won’t improve by tomorrow,” he said. “But we are building something.”

Reuters

News
people And here is why...
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

KS1 & KS2 Teacher

£115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: We are looking for infants and...

Secondary Trained Teachers for the watford area

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Qualified secondary teachers - ...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: KS1 & 2 Primary Supply Teac...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?