By Terje, Solsvik and Angus Berwick
OSLO/CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido vowed to press ahead with street protests after talks with government officials hosted by Norway ended on Wednesday without progress towards resolving the South American country’s long-running political crisis.
At the meeting in Oslo, opposition delegates repeated calls for President Nicolas Maduro to step down and allow a transitional government to organise presidential elections to bring an end to a political crisis in the OPEC nation.
Guaido in January assumed a rival interim presidency, citing Venezuela’s constitution, and denounced Maduro’s government as illegitimate after he secured re-election last year in a vote widely criticized as rigged.
Most Western nations have recognised Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president but Maduro has repeatedly said that he will not step aside. He has denounced Guaido as a coup monger and a puppet of Washington.
“There was no immediate agreement, so the chance that we have today is to remain in the streets,” Guaido told Fox Business Network, speaking via an interpreter. “We want to reach a solution to the conflict.”
In an earlier statement, Guaido’s office said that the opposition remained willing to continue with the mediation as long as there were conditions for progress, but that it would not abandon its roadmap for new elections.
Norway’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that envoys for Venezuela’s government and opposition had shown a “willingness” to make some headway.
“The parties have demonstrated their willingness to move forward in the search for an agreed-upon and constitutional solution for the country, which includes political, economic and electoral matters,” the foreign ministry said.
In its statement, Oslo called on both sides to show discretion in public comments so as not to damage the process.
In remarks on national television, Maduro said the government had prepared the ground for the Norway mediation with months of secret talks. Opposition sources have also said there have been contacts with elements of the government for months, particularly in the run up to an abortive April 30 military uprising.
“The only way forward is dialogue,” Maduro said. “We want a peace deal.”
Economic collapse has driven more than 3 million Venezuelans abroad in recent years, while political protests have often turned deadly.
Intelligence agents have detained several Guaido allies and the Supreme Court this month has accused 14 opposition lawmakers of crimes including treason and conspiracy.
Norway has a long tradition of conflict mediation, but has its work cut out solving the Venezuelan crisis, which has become a geopolitical football as dozens of Western and Latin American nations recognise Guaido, while Russia and China back Maduro.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Guaido by phone on Wednesday, but did not say if they discussed the Oslo talks.
“Told him America will continue to stand with Venezuela until freedom is restored! The people of Venezuela are suffering under dictatorship and oppression. Nicolas Maduro must go,” Pence said.
Guaido told Fox Business Network that Pence has expressed concern for the collapse of public services in Venezuela, which is suffering lack of gasoline, water shortages and rolling blackouts in many parts of the country. A Guaido aide said the two men spoke for 45 minutes.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik in Oslo, Angus Berwick in Caracas and Mohammad Zarham in Washington; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne; Tom Brown and Alistair Bell)