Venezuela opposition says Maduro trying to divide it


Caracas (AFP)

A top Venezuelan opposition leader accused President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday of trying to divide his enemies to undermine talks on defusing the country's political crisis.

Jesus Torrealba, secretary general of the main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), made the comments after Maduro called one coalition member, the hardline Popular Will party, a "terrorist group."

"With his attack on Popular Will and his attempt to divide Venezuela's democrats, Maduro is stomping on the negotiations and mocking Pope Francis," Torrealba said on his morning radio show.

Maduro lashed out Tuesday night at Popular Will -- founded by jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez -- for refusing to take part in Vatican-backed talks between his socialist government and the opposition.

"I hope the courts will intervene against these terrorists," he said.

"As head of state I will support all decisions to make them pay."

Torrealba said Maduro was trying to divide the MUD between moderates and radicals -- but vowed it wouldn't work.

"You're wrong. We're all democrats and we are united. If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us," he said on the daily program he hosts on opposition-friendly broadcaster RCR.

"Maduro is just trying to win over the radicals in his own party."

Venezuela is in an economic melt-down that Maduro's opponents blame on the failure of 17 years of socialist policies.

With food shortages driving rampant inflation, polls show three in four Venezuelans are unhappy with the leftist president, the political heir to late leader Hugo Chavez.

But the MUD, an umbrella group united mainly by shared hatred of Maduro, is struggling to deliver on its pledge to force the socialists from power.

The political standoff reached a boiling point last month when the MUD's main strategy against Maduro -- a recall referendum -- was halted by the authorities over fraud allegations.

After massive anti-government protests and the threat of a "political trial" in the opposition-majority legislature, Maduro proposed holding talks.

But 16 MUD members, led by Popular Will, are refusing to take part.

Popular Will is one of the most hardline anti-Maduro parties. Its founder, Lopez, is serving a 14-year prison sentence on charges of inciting unrest at anti-government protests that left 43 people dead in 2014.