April 11, 2014 - 11:55 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has met opposition leaders in crisis talks aimed at quelling weeks of protests, according to BBC News.
Maduro opened the talks by shaking hands with his bitter rival, opposition leader Henrique Capriles. The rare meeting, broadcast live on television, was brokered by foreign ministers from South American nations.
Protests erupted over soaring crime rates in February, but have snowballed into wider anti-government rallies. Some 40 people have been killed.
Maduro, who says the protests are part of a "fascist" U.S.-backed plot against him, told the meeting that there would be no deal with the opposition.
"There are no negotiations here. No pacts. All we're looking for is a model of peaceful coexistence, of mutual tolerance," he said.
He said any kind of formal deal with the opposition would make him a "traitor to chavismo", the socialist platform of his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Maduro called on the opposition to renounce violence.
Capriles, who was narrowly defeated in last year's presidential election, insisted that the opposition did not want a coup against the government.
The talks lasted six hours. There will be another round of talks next week.
Pope Francis sent a letter giving his support to the talks.
"I urge you not to get stuck in the conflict of the moment but open yourselves to one another to become true builders of peace," the Roman Catholic leader said, in a letter read out at the meeting.
Venezuela is sharply divided between supporters and opponents of Maduro, who narrowly beat Capriles to the presidency last year.
The oil-rich country's economy has hit the buffers in recent years, with food shortages and spiraling inflation causing increasing dissent.