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Maduro ready to hold talks with Opposition


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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday said he is ready to hold talks with the US-backed opposition in the presence of international mediators.
Having previously dismissed all prospects of talks, the embattled leader told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency that he changed his mind "for Venezuela's peace and its future," Al Jazeera reported.
He said talks could be held in the presence of other countries, proposing Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, the Vatican and, Russia as potential mediators.
Accusing US President Donald Trump of ordering his killing, Maduro said he was aware of the "orders" for Columbian government and the local mafia to carry it out. However, he did not provide any evidence to support his claim.
"If something happens to me one day then Donald Trump and Colombian President Ivan Duque will be responsible for everything that is happening to me. At the same time, I am protected. We have a good system of defence in place and moreover, we have more significant protection - this is protection from God who will give me a long life," Maduro said.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Maduro's opponents must forego all preconditions in order for talks to take place.
"We call on the opposition to refuse ultimatums and to work together independently, guided only by the interests of the Venezuelan people," Lavrov told reporters.
Maduro has rejected calls for his resignation, saying it would amount to blackmail if he did.
"We do not accept the ultimatum from anyone in the world, we do not accept blackmail. The presidential elections in Venezuela were held, but if the imperialists want new elections, let them wait until 2025," he said.
However, he did support holding early parliamentary elections.
"It would be very good to conduct parliamentary elections at an earlier stage, it would be a good form of political discussion," Maduro said.
He further expressed confidence that he was in control of the country's armed forces.
"I am carrying out my duties as commander-in-chief according to the constitution consolidating the national Bolivarian armed forces and the Bolivarian armed forces are demonstrating a lesson in ethics, loyalty and discipline," Maduro said.
The beleaguered leader evaded questions on reports last week that Russian-lined private military contractors have been sent to bolster his security, saying he "cannot say anything about it".
In a tweet, Trump apparently suggested that Maduro's move to hold talks with Guaido came as a result of the US-imposed sanctions on the state-owned PDSVA oil company.
"Maduro willing to negotiate with opposition in Venezuela following U.S. sanctions and the cutting off of oil revenues. Guaido is being targeted by Venezuelan Supreme Court. Massive protest expected today. Americans should not travel to Venezuela until further notice," Trump tweeted.
The sanctions were imposed in a bid to cut off financial resources to President Nicolas Marudo and redirect them towards the country's self-proclaimed interim President Juan Guaido. The Trump administration also announced that it will block assets worth USD 7 billion owned by PDVSA.
The situation in Venezuela, which has been struggling to overcome a political crisis amid the opposition's refusal to recognize last year's re-election of Maduro, significantly escalated on January 22 when the opposition-controlled National Assembly declared the president a usurper. The very next day, National Assembly Speaker Guaido proclaimed himself Venezuela's interim president.
While dozens of countries, including the US and some of its allies, have recognized Guaido as the acting Venezuelan president, Russia has reaffirmed its support for Maduro as the legitimately elected head of state.
On Tuesday, Guaido called for Venezuelans to gather on the streets for two hours on Wednesday in the first mass mobilisation since last week's protests.
The UN human rights office stated that security forces in Venezuela apprehended over 700 people in a single day of the protests last week, which was the highest tally in the country for the past 20 years.
Over 40 people were reportedly killed during the violence during the mass protests.

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First Published: Jan 31 2019 | 1:25 AM IST

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