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Venezuelan government mulls sending lawmakers back to opposition assembly

Venezuelan government mulls sending lawmakers back to opposition assembly
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, delivers a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado -
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By Corina Pons and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s government said on Monday it was evaluating sending some of its lawmakers back to the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which President Nicolas Maduro has called an illegal institution, as part of new talks with one opposition faction.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez also said the government would reform the national electoral commission, which the opposition and Western observers have denounced as biased after the 2018 election, won by Maduro, which they claim was rigged. Rodriguez gave no details about these possible changes.

The agreement was made with a different sector of the opposition than that led by U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of the National Assembly congress who invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency in January.

The announcement comes after Guaido on Sunday said negotiations in Barbados between the opposition and government mediated by Norway “had been exhausted” after the Maduro administration withdrew delegates in August following a tightening of U.S. sanctions.

“We have not closed any door to any initiative to resolve among Venezuelans the issues that concern us,” Rodriguez said. “We have reached agreement on some issues and have a working agenda on others.”

As part of the agreement, the government said lawmakers would return to the National Assembly for the first time since 2017, when Maduro declared the body illegitimate and created a parallel legislature called the National Constituent Assembly to override opposition delegates’ decisions.

Maduro’s Socialist Party of Venezuela holds 54 of the National Assembly’s 167 seats.

However, the document did not propose eliminating the Constituent Assembly, but rather a “balance of both powers.”

Opposition negotiator Stalin Gonzalez said the Maduro government is feeling pressure within its ranks to reopen negotiations. Presidential elections were on the table when Maduro’s government pulled its officials from the talks, he said.

“Within the regime there is a lot of pressure on the leadership … The regime knows that there are many people who are willing to agree to them,” Gonzalez, the National Assembly’s vice president, told Reuters.

On Monday Guaido said the proposal negotiators had laid out in Barbados included a transition government, to include lawmakers from all parties, and new elections.

Gonzalez dismissed the government’s agreement with the smaller opposition faction, saying it was unlikely to end the political crisis. The document did not mention a transitional government or presidential elections.

Maduro, who retains control of the state and military, derides Guaido as a U.S.-controlled puppet who is seeking to foment a coup. Most Western nations recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful head of state.

(Reporting by Corina Pons and Mayela Armas in Caracas; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Angus Berwick and Matthew Lewis)

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