Maduro Warns Venezuela Opposition as Caracas Protests Return

Photographer: Meridith Kohut/Bloomberg

Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela, on Feb. 18, 2014. Close

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Photographer: Meridith Kohut/Bloomberg

Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela, on Feb. 18, 2014.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told opposition governors to take part in talks he called for next week or face “consequences” as Caracas residents hold dueling rallies today.

Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, who in April lost the presidential election by the thinnest margin in 45 years, today said he would join the talks. Maduro, in a news conference from the presidential palace yesterday, said opposition groups were trying to overthrow his government, backed by the political “right” in Latin America, foreign media and the U.S.

“There is a campaign to demonize, to isolate, the Bolivarian revolution,” said Maduro, sitting in front of a portrait of late President Hugo Chavez. “It’s an international campaign that is trying to divide Latin America.”

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Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is an opposition leader, wrote in a post on his Twitter account that a “sea of people” were marching in the capital while state television showed images of pro-government rallies.

Capriles today marched alongside the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, saying he wants a chance to address the nation on Feb. 24 when the talks with Maduro are scheduled to occur.

‘The Streets’

“The government is acting outside of the constitution and we came here today to demand that the repression and torture stop,” Capriles said in images transmitted by the Globovision network. “As long as this government fails to listen and offer solutions, the people will stay in the streets.”

Maduro last night spoke hours after the government revoked the accreditation for seven CNN journalists. Maduro accused the network of misreporting the political crisis, a week after he took Colombian television channel NTN24 off the air following its coverage of the demonstrations.

“They’re wiping out the ability of the international media to cover the marches and the government’s heavy-handed tactics,” Christopher Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Council of Americas, said by phone. “This is a very dispersed protest movement and this was a way for them to inform themselves of events. The government is trying to atomize the opposition.”

‘Tense Situation’

CNN said it has “reported both sides of the tense situation in Venezuela” and that some reporters would remain in Venezuela for now. Three CNN journalists attended the news conference and Maduro said the network could stay if it “rectifies” its coverage.

CNN correspondent Osmary Hernandez wrote on her Twitter account today the government said it would reinstate press credentials.

Maduro started the news conference saying he wanted a “debate” with reporters. When asked about videos showing national guard troops and police firing indiscriminately and destroying property, Maduro said the government would investigate the accusations. He said human rights are respected in the country.

Some students arrested during protests say they were beaten and had gasoline poured on them by National Guard, newspaper El Nacional reported, citing students and their lawyers.

Reject Violence

The wife of Lopez, Lilian Tintori, posted a note from him on Twitter calling on protesters to reject violence and stay united. Eight people have died since the unrest started Feb. 12, the government said yesterday. A 23-year-old student died from gunshot wounds received during a Feb. 19 protest in Carabobo state, El Universal newspaper reported today, citing members of her family.

“To the Venezuelan people, more strength and more faith,” wrote Lopez, who is being held in a military prison on charges of inciting violence. “We’re going to achieve change in Venezuela.”

Struggling to rein in 56 percent inflation and a shortage of basic goods and medicines, Maduro this week announced plans to import $1 billion in food and medicine and to unveil a new currency auction system designed to help companies and individuals have more access to dollars.

‘Armed Vigilantes’

At the same time he blamed the U.S. and leaders in Colombia and Panama of opposing his government, Maduro said he wanted to have talks with President Barack Obama and would consider exchanging ambassadors with the U.S. in a bid to improve ties. He said peaceful protests are permitted in Venezuela and vowed to use legal means to counter violent demonstrations.

“Despite calls from that country’s democratic opposition and the international community, the Venezuelan government has confronted peaceful protesters with force and in some cases with armed vigilantes claiming to support the government,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. “This is not how democracies behave.”

Maduro in a statement today said Kerry was intervening in Venezuelan affairs and is inviting additional attacks on his government.

In the Altamira neighborhood of Caracas last night, student protesters in the neighborhood blocked streets with trash cans, tree trunks, metal posts and other debris.

“The economy is getting progressively worse,” said Nicole Flores, 24. “We’re looking for a response to the situation. We don’t think this is going to get rid of Maduro.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jose Orozco in Caracas at jorozco8@bloomberg.net; Nathan Crooks in Caracas at ncrooks@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

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