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Venezuela government and opposition talk, expectations low

By Diego Oré and Deisy Buitrago

By Diego Oré and Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition and the government of President Nicolas Maduro engaged in a new round of talks on Friday evening as part of a Vatican-backed dialogue process meant to ease a political standoff amid the spiraling economic crisis.

Neither side appeared optimistic, however, with the opposition insisting on a recall referendum against Maduro and the Socialist administration showing little indication of agreeing to that.

The government released a small group of jailed opposition activists following the start of talks last week, and the opposition postponed a political trial in Congress against Maduro and canceled a march to the presidential palace.


But Jesus Torrealba, executive secretary of the opposition's Democratic Unity coalition, said before the meeting on Friday that Maduro's adversaries were ready to resume confrontation.

"The truce is over, what's coming is struggle," said Torrealba. "There is no contradiction between struggle and dialogue."

Television footage showed four top Socialist Party officials and four counterparts from the opposition, as well as representatives from the church, regional bloc Unasur, and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Maduro did not appear in the images.

There was no word on when the meeting might end. The first meeting between the two sides, held on Sunday Oct. 30, stretched well into dawn hours.

The political crisis intensified in recent weeks after elections authorities scuttled an opposition effort to request a recall against Maduro following accusations of fraud in a preliminary signature drive.

The opposition accuses the 53-year-old president of being responsible for the country's crisis, which includes triple-digit inflation, a recession and shortages of food and medicine.

Maduro, who was elected president in 2013 after the death of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, calls the situation the result of an "economic war" led by the opposition in efforts to unseat him.

Earlier on Friday, he lambasted what he said was the opposition's lack of commitment to dialogue.

"It was so hard to get them to sit down at the table and now they're threatening to leave," Maduro said during his new salsa music radio show.

For the dialogue to continue, the opposition is insisting the government release more than a hundred jailed activists, allow international humanitarian assistance, and name a new board of directors to the elections council.

They also have demanded respect for decisions by the opposition-led Congress, which has had nearly every one of its measures shot down by the top court.

Maduro in turn has demanded that Congress respect a top court sentence that effectively stripped the opposition of a super majority won last year, a sentence the opposition maintains was fraudulent.

(Reporting by Diego Oré, additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea, Deisy Buitrago, Fabian Cambero, and Alexandra Ulmer; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by David Gregorio and Mary Milliken)