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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 22:24 GMT
Talks begin in troubled Venezuela
General Secretary of the Organisation of American States, OAS, Cesar Gaviria, right, shakes hands with Senator Alejandro Armas, an opponent of President Hugo Chavez
The meeting is the first since April's failed coup attempt

Internationally brokered talks are under way between Venezuela's Government and its opposition, aimed at breaking the impasse in the country's political crisis.

Hugo Chavez
Opposition groups want President Chavez to resign
The discussions are the first between the two bitterly divided sides since a failed coup against President Hugo Chavez in April, which left more than 60 people dead.

Mr Chavez's opponents, who accuse him of dictatorial behaviour and mismanaging the oil-rich nation's economy, hope the talks will lead to early elections or a speedy referendum on the president's mandate.

But the government says both options are unconstitutional.

Mired in conflict

Sizing up the task in his opening remarks, chairman Cesar Gaviria called the talks the biggest responsibility of his life.

Mr Gaviria, a former president of neighbouring Colombia and current Secretary General of the Organisation of American States, warned that Venezuela's conflict threatened to destroy the country's peace and democratic institutions.

Venezuela, a major oil supplier to the United States, has been mired in political conflict and an economic tailspin since President Chavez was briefly deposed in April's coup.

Supporters of President Hugo Chavez throw stones at opponents in Caracas, 4 November, 2002
An opposition march on Monday ended in violence
Since then Mr Chavez has faced numerous street protests and a general strike.

Earlier this week an opposition march ended in violence after the president's supporters clashed with police.

The bitter divide between both sides has meant that just getting them to sit down at the same table has been something of an achievement.

On the agenda for discussion are a reform of the electoral system, disarming the population and the creation of a truth commission to investigate the deaths during April's coup.

But what the opposition really want to talk about is the scheduling of early elections or a referendum.

They say the only solution to the country's crisis is for Mr Chavez to step down.

Unsurprisingly the government team, headed by Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, is reluctant to discuss the issue.

Although no timeframe has been set for the negotiations, opposition leaders have threatened to call an indefinite general strike if their demands are not met by the beginning of next month.


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