Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during his radio program at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela Dec. 26, 2016.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during his radio program at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela Dec. 26, 2016.

CARACAS - Venezuela's opposition on Monday ruled out returning to Vatican-led talks with President Nicolas Maduro's government unless it makes major concessions amid a crushing economic crisis and bitter political standoff.

The opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition blames Maduro for the OPEC nation's shrinking and dysfunctional economy and wants to bring forward the next presidential vote, due in late 2018.

But Maduro, 54, the self-declared "son" of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, accuses the MUD of seeking a coup and sabotaging the economy to undermine him.

A Papal envoy, South American bloc Unasur and former heads of government from Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic brought the feuding sides together at the end of October. But the opposition walked out earlier this month, saying government officials were reneging on accords to allow humanitarian aid, reform the national election board, free jailed activists and restore the National Assembly's powers.

“If these demands ... have not been satisfied by January 13, obviously there will be no conditions to re-establish dialogue,” said the coalition's executive-secretary, Jesus Torrealba, referring to the next potential date for talks mooted by mediators.

“They are mocking the Venezuelan people and the international community, which is extremely dangerous in the context of an inflammatory social and economic situation,” Torrealba told a news conference.

Jesus Torrealba, secretary of Venezuela's coaliti
Jesus Torrealba, secretary of Venezuela's coalition of opposition parties, attends a news conference in Caracas, Venezuela Dec. 26, 2016.

Maduro, whose popularity has hit its lowest level of under 20 percent according to pollster Datanalisis, says his foes are not serious about dialogue and has threatened that the opposition-led legislature may not exist much longer.

The government-leaning Supreme Court has ruled the National Assembly is in "contempt" of the law. Democratic Unity leaders say the coalition needs a re-launch in the New Year with fresh tactics after the dialogue stalled momentum from large street protests and a symbolic trial of Maduro in the Assembly.

Hardline opposition leaders are pushing for a civil disobedience campaign. But moderates believe that could lead to more violence and play into the government's hands by allowing Maduro to depict them as irresponsible troublemakers.

Opposition protests in 2014 led to 43 deaths, and marches this year have brought clashes with security forces. Venezuela's 30 million people have had an austere Christmas, with many unable to afford traditional meals, presents and holidays at the beach. Inflation is the world's highest and many
products are scarce.

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