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Pro-government rally in Venezuela, Maduro eyes talks

Health workers who support Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro march to the presidential palace in Caracas on March 10, 2014
Health workers who support Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro march to the presidential palace in Caracas on March 10, 2014

Hundreds of supporters of President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government staged a colorful rally in the Venezuelan capital Saturday, as opponents called for more protests from their side.

Maduro announced he would propose to the United States creating a high-level commission for bilateral talks -- after days of tenser than usual rhetoric between the old-time foes.

Venezuela has seen almost daily anti-government demonstrations over violent crime, shortages of essential goods such as toilet paper, and inflation, in the most serious challenge yet for Maduro since succeeding the late socialist-populist Hugo Chavez last year.

At least 28 people have died and 400 have been injured in the student-led protests launched February 4 in San Cristobal, in the west of Venezuela, and later spread to Caracas and several other cities.

"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," thundered National Assembly Speaker Diosdado 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 Chavez and his "Bolivarian revolution," while armed forces joined in the rally.

The Popular Will, a prominent opposition party, called for a rival demonstration in another part of the capital, "to repudiate the brutal onslaught of state security and pro-government (vigilante) groups against demonstrators."

- US-Venezuela commission proposed -

Maduro said his proposed commission "for peace and mutual respect of sovereignty" between Venezuela and the United States could include parties from both sides and the UNASUR grouping of South American nations.

But just on Friday, Washington dismissed Maduro's "absurd" accusations that it was meddling in the country's internal affairs by intervening in anti-government protests.

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 president said he would seek to name Cabello to lead talks with the United States "to speak while respecting peace for a dialogue among equals."

His terms for dialogue with the United States are virtually identical to those that have been stated repeatedly by Cuba, Caracas's closest ally.

The United States has not taken either country up on their regularly stated offers.

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