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Capriles urges talks with crisis-hit Venezuelan government

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Venezuelan presidential election runner-up Henrique Capriles urged the government Tuesday to open a dialogue with him after the disputed vote sparked protests that turned deadly.

"We are ready to open a dialogue with the government so that the crisis can be ended in the coming hours," Capriles said, addressing his remarks to acting President Nicolas Maduro's government, after demonstrations over the disputed election left at least seven people dead and dozens injured.

"As of now, I have not heard from Mr Maduro any solution for the problem the country is going through ... an idea to get out of this crisis," Capriles said in a press conference.

In the election to replace leftist president Hugo Chavez, who died last month, his designated political heir Maduro on Sunday defeated Capriles by a tight 1.7 percentage points.

Capriles demanded a full recount, but the National Electoral Board has declared Maduro the winner.

Tuesday, Maduro said he was barring a march Capriles had planned to lead on Wednesday to the headquarters of the electoral board.

The political crisis in the oil-rich country deepened as protests swept parts of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities for a second day.

Repeated demands by Capriles for a recount -- which had the backing of the United States and the Organization of American States -- have been rejected, setting the two sides on a collision course.

By Tuesday morning, besides the deaths, government officials were reporting 61 injured and 135 arrested around the country.

Maduro, blaming "fascist mobs" for the violence and reiterating charges that the opposition was fomenting a coup, said he would not allow his foes to go ahead with a planned protest march Wednesday through Caracas.

"You are not going to the center of Caracas to fill it with death and blood," the 50-year-old said in a nationally televised statement, while calling his own supporters into the streets.

The 40-year-old Capriles shot back on his Twitter account, blaming Maduro and his government for the violence.

"The illegitimate one and his government ordered that there be violence to avoid a vote recount! They are the ones who are responsible," he said.

Tensions have soared since the National Electoral Council -- dominated by Chavistas -- proclaimed Maduro the victor.

Groups of Chavistas, dressed in red and carrying Venezuelan flags, gathered Tuesday at various points in Zulia, Anzoategui, Carabobo and Apure states in shows of strength after a night of pot-banging and street protests by the opposition.

Images broadcast by state television VTV on Tuesday showed burned-out cars in Barinas state.

Thousands of anti-government protesters on Monday took to the streets of Chacao, an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas, painting walls with the message: "Fraud, they stole our vote."

In one incident, a 45-year-old man was shot dead Monday night in the Caracas suburb of Baruta while demonstrating in support of Maduro, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said, with a 44-year-old woman also wounded.

"They were shouting slogans in favor of President Nicolas Maduro's victory, when an opposition caravan passed by and shots were fired," said Jaua, who also accused the opposition of engaging in "fascist violence."

Government officials charged that groups of opposition protesters, some on motorcycles, massed outside the home of the electoral council president Tibisay Lucena, and attacked offices of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

The official VTV television and Telesur, a Latin American television network financed in part by Venezuela, said protesters also gathered outside the party's Caracas headquarters in what they described as "provocative" and "aggressive" displays.

"We should calm down," Arlynn Rojas, 21, told AFP. "What they are doing is calling for a confrontation, instead of looking for peace. The country is very divided, there is a lot of anger, resentment and this is very dangerous."

Maduro is due to take office on Friday to complete Chavez's six-year term, which began January 10.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130416/capriles-urges-talks-crisis-hit-venezuelan-government