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Norway efforts to mediate Venezuela turmoil hindered

The Associated Press CARACAS (AP) — Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido said Friday that the opposition’s demand for presidential elections is not negotiable, slowing mediation efforts by Norway aimed at resolving Venezuela’s political crisis.

“A new meeting isn’t planned at the moment, we can get what we’ve proposed on the agenda,” Guaido said at an event in the central city of Valencia, dismissing earlier comments from Russia’s foreign ministry that a third round of exploratory talks with representatives of Nicolas Maduro would take place this week.

“Nobody who is straight in the head would sit across from a dictator thinking he is negotiating in good faith,” he added.

Guaido’s biting comments, coming as mediators from Norway were in Caracas trying to prevent the talks from derailing, highlight the huge obstacles to negotiating a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela, which has endured economic and political turmoil for years.

Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled congress, revived a flagging opposition movement in January by declaring himself Venezuela’s rightful leader, quickly drawing recognition from the United States and more than 50 nations that say Maduro’s re-election last year was illegitimate.

But Maduro, backed by the military as well as Cuba and Russia, has held on to power in the face of U.S. oil sanctions that are adding to misery in a nation hit hard by hyperinflation and widespread fuel, food and power shortages.

Norway has hosted two rounds of exploratory talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition in an attempt to break the ongoing stalemate.

The opposition, mindful of the collapse of past dialogue attempts that only served to strengthen the government’s hand, has insisted the starting point for negotiations be a willingness by Maduro to hold presidential elections within a reasonable time frame. Maduro has balked at that call, blaming the opposition for boycotting last year’s presidential ballot and insisting instead on elections to revamp the opposition-controlled legislature.

“As long as both sides are hurting and don’t see a way out, there’s a possibility negotiations can succeed,” said James Dobbins, a senior fellow at the Rand Corporation who served as special U.S. envoy to several crisis hotspots including Haiti and Afghanistan. “It’s really the only hope left.”

U.N. says exodus growing

Meanwhile, the number of Venezuelans who have left their country in recent years has surpassed 4 million, the United Nations said Friday ahead of a visit to the region by UNHCR envoy Angelina Jolie.

The U.N. refugee agency said the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants rose by 1 million after November, indicating a rapid escalation as economic conditions deteriorated and a conflict between the government of Maduro and the opposition intensified.

“These alarming figures highlight the urgent need to support host communities in the receiving countries,” said Eduardo Stein, the U.N. Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, in a statement. “Latin American and Caribbean countries are doing their part to respond to this unprecedented crisis but they cannot be expected to continue doing it without international help.”Speech

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