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Venezuela calls on US to join 'peace commission'

Updated: 2014-03-17 07:56
By Agencies in Caracas ( China Daily)

Security forces send protesters scurrying in Caracas after ultimatum given

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro urged Washington on Saturday to join a "high-level commission" to promote peace after more than a month of deadly anti-government demonstrations.

Maduro blames the United States for the riots, a charge US officials on Friday dismissed as "absurd".

At least 28 people have been killed and 400 injured in the student-led protests that began on Feb 4 in western Venezuela and spread to Caracas and other cities.

Oil-rich Venezuela has seen almost daily anti-government demonstrations as tens of thousands of people vent their rage over the soaring crime rate, spiraling inflation, and a lack of household goods in the markets.

Bilateral talks

Speaking at a rally in support of the armed forces on Saturday, Maduro said he would propose a commission "for peace and mutual respect of sovereignty" between Venezuela and the US that could include parties from both sides and the UNASUR grouping of South American nations.

The president said he would name Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, to lead potential talks with Washington "to speak while respecting peace for a dialogue among equals".

His terms for dialogue are virtually identical to those that have been stated repeatedly by Cuba, Venezuela's closest ally.

The White House has not taken either country up on their frequently stated offers.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua had earlier called top US diplomat John Kerry a "murderer of the Venezuelan people", accusing him of encouraging the protests that have killed 28 people in five weeks.

"The solution to Venezuela's problems lies in democratic dialogue among Venezuelans, not in repression or in hurling verbal brickbats at the United States," a US State Department official said on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US is the main market for Venezuela's petroleum. The two countries have had testy relations for years, and withdrew ambassadors in 2010.

In his speech on Saturday, Maduro warned the more radical, weapon-wielding protesters that security forces would clear them from locations in Caracas unless they dispersed within a few hours. In the same address, the president also reiterated his desire to meet student demonstrators "with love".

Police clear sites

Later on Saturday, security forces moved against protesters, as promised, with police using tear gas and their riot vehicles to clear the usually busy areas, sending the demonstrators scurrying.

In the Chacao neighborhood, university students, many of them hooded, hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, pulled up manhole covers, and built makeshift barricades with debris as they battled riot police.

Earlier, crowds supporting the Maduro government, including members of the armed forces, some in uniform, turned out to show their support for the president.

"The people and the armed forces are on the streets defending the Bolivarian revolution and the legacy of Hugo Chavez, the country and our constitution," said Cabello, sporting a coat in Venezuela's national colors of yellow, blue and red.

Many of the pro-government supporters held up Venezuelan flags and wore red, the color closely associated with the late leftist icon Hugo Chavez and his "Bolivarian revolution".


Anti-government 'chuckys' targeted by president

During a speech on Saturday, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro identified a hard core of armed protesters as being the main target of security forces keen to clear them from protest sites.

"I'm giving the Chuckys, the killers, just a few hours," Maduro said, using the name of a murderous child-doll in a horror film to describe anti-government demonstrators who have set up a base of operations in a normally genteel 1940s area of Caracas.

"If they don't retreat, I'm going to liberate those spaces with the security forces," Maduro added.

"They have a few hours to go home. ... Chuckys, get ready, we're coming for you."