Venezuela president and opposition agree formal talks
- 9 April 2014
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
The Venezuelan government and a coalition of opposition parties have agreed to enter into "formal talks" to end weeks of anti-government protests.
At least 39 people, both opponents and supporters of the government, have died in protest-related violence.
Venezuelan Vice-President Jorge Arreaza said the two sides had agreed to hold talks "in public".
The opposition coalition had demanded that any negotiations be broadcast live on television and radio.
Following preliminary talks on Tuesday, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) and the government said they would meet more formally under the mediation of representatives from the Vatican and regional body Unasur.
President Nicolas Maduro said the talks had been tentatively scheduled for Thursday.
"We spoke frankly, directly and respectfully. There were moments of tension, but we agreed to start a cycle of meetings," the president said.
But he ruled out any changes to the course of what he calls the Bolivarian revolution, the distinct brand of socialism created by his predecessor in office, Hugo Chavez.
"This is not a negotiation, nor a deal with anyone. What we will have is a debate, a dialogue, which is different. Neither will we try and convert them [the opposition] to Bolivarian socialism, nor will they convert us to capitalism," he said.
MUD Executive Secretary Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said a Vatican representative would act as a mediator "to help us in this difficult path".
The foreign ministers of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador are also expected to attend the meeting.
However, the Popular Will party which is part of the opposition MUD coalition, expressed scepticism about the formal talks.
Its leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who was detained in February on charges of inciting violence, said they were just for show.
In a series of messages sent from jail and published by his wife on Twitter, he said: "I believe deeply in dialogue, but in a dialogue of equals, not [with one side] on its knees.
"For 15 years, we have seen how the dictatorship conducts dialogue."
His party said it would not take part in the talks unless Mr Lopez was released.
The anti-government protests started in early February. with demonstrators demanding an end to Venezuela's high crime rate, its growing inflation and shortages of certain food staples.
They have since grown into a wide opposition movement and many of the protesters say they will not stop until the government of President Maduro resigns.
There have also been demonstrations in support of the government, with tens of thousands of people clad in red, the colour associated with the Bolivarian revolution, taking to the streets.