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Jailed Venezuela Protest Leader Mocks Maduro’s Talks

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is escorted by supporters before handing himself over in Caracas

Caracas – Jailed Venezuelan protest leader Leopoldo Lopez scoffed on Friday at President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to open talks with opponents and businessman after a month of demonstrations and violence that have killed at least 17 people. Maduro, 51, seems to have weathered the worst of an explosion of protests against his socialist government that exposed deep discontent with economic problems and brought the nation’s worst unrest in a decade.

Some students are still setting up roadblocks and clashing with police in Caracas and the western state of Tachira. But the number of protesters has dropped, and many Venezuelans have begun heading for the beach to enjoy a long weekend for Carnival celebrations.

To try to ease the crisis further, Maduro has been holding talks with business and church leaders and some anti-government politicians, though the main opposition figures such as two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles have boycotted them. Lopez, a hardline opposition leader who faces charges of fomenting the violence, said Maduro’s offer of dialogue was a hypocritical move to try to deflate the protests while failing to address the deep-seated problems behind them.

“‘The dialogue’ is a tactical retreat as a result of the pressure in the streets. It’s not real conviction,” Lopez said in a message from Ramo Verde military prison given to his wife, who tweeted it from his account, @leopoldolopez. “Maduro’s dialogue is: ‘come to Miraflores (presidential palace) and while I speak to the nation, I pursue, kill and repress in the streets’.”

More than 250 people have been hurt in the unrest and another 500 or so arrested, authorities say. Venezuela’s state prosecutor says 17 people have died, the latest victim shot while trying to dismantle a barricade in Carabobo state. (Reuters)

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