Venezuelan opposition, Norway urge Maduro government to resume talks

Gerardo Blyde Perez of Venezuela's Unitary Platform speaks during a news conference after the third round of talks with the Venezuelan government was suspended, at a hotel in Mexico City, Mexico October 17, 2021. REUTERS/Luis Cortes

CARACAS/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -The chair of the Venezuelan opposition's negotiating team at talks with the government urged President Nicolas Maduro's administration on Sunday to resume dialogue as soon as possible, after the government suspended its participation this weekend.

The government of Maduro, who scoffed at the invitation to resume talks, put the conversations on ice after Colombian businessman Alex Saab, a Venezuelan envoy, was extradited to the United States from Cape Verde on Saturday to face corruption charges.

It was the latest setback at Norwegian-sponsored talks between the two sides, which have yet to make concrete advances toward ending Venezuela's long social and economic crisis.

A majority of Venezuelans live in poverty, suffering gasoline shortages and frequent power blackouts. Millions have emigrated, seeking work and better living conditions.

"We urge our counterpart to restart as soon as possible the session in Mexico to produce the necessary agreements," said opposition negotiator Gerardo Blyde, speaking from Mexico City.

Norway echoed that call on Twitter, saying negotiations are the only solution.

"We will keep working for the parties to, as soon as possible, continue their important effort at the negotiating table," the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted.

Socialist party legislator Jorge Rodriguez, who heads the government's negotiating team, announced the suspension on Saturday.

The Venezuelan government in September named Saab - who was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped in Cape Verde to refuel - as a negotiator. His inclusion in the negotiating team was widely seen by Maduro critics as an attempt to delay his extradition.

"The government of the United States knew that by kidnapping Alex Saab they would fatally stab the dialogue and negotiations in Mexico and they acted," Maduro said on state TV on Sunday evening. "They don't want dialogue."

Venezuela will denounce the charges against Saab at the United Nations, Maduro said, adding that other responses to the extradition would come.

The U.S. Justice Department charged Saab in 2019 in connection with a bribery scheme to take advantage of Venezuela's state-controlled exchange rate.

The United States also imposed sanctions on him for allegedly orchestrating a corruption network that Washington says allowed Saab and Maduro to profit from a state-run food subsidy program.

Saab's lawyers have called the U.S. charges "politically motivated."

Dozens of supporters waved placards urging Saab's release at a gathering in Caracas on Sunday attended by his wife, Camilla Fabri.

"What most bothers the United States is that my husband, Alex Saab, will never give in," Fabri said, also reading from a letter from Saab where he says he cannot cooperate with the United States because he has committed no crime.

Saab is expected to make his initial court appearance on Monday.

Hours after Saab's extradition, Venezuela revoked the house arrest of six former executives of refiner Citgo, a U.S. subsidiary of state oil company PDVSA.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Mayela Armas in Caracas and Sharay Angulo in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

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