Venezuela's Maduro wants talks with Obama

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Story highlights

  • Nicolas Maduro calls for talks with the United States
  • Venezuela's government says eight people have been killed in the violence
  • The western state of Tachira is a flashpoint of the tension
  • The government is considering sending more troops to Tachira

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called Friday on the United States to exchange ambassadors just days after expelling three American diplomats from the country.

The request came during an hours-long news conference aired on state-run TV, where Maduro called on President Barack Obama to begin talks, even as he repeatedly accused the United States of interfering in Venezuelan internal affairs and stoking sometimes violent anti-government protests in recent days.

"I call for a dialogue with you, Obama," Maduro said. "You can designate (U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry or whoever you want to come to this dialogue and I will send my foreign minister ... for this high-level meeting."

At the same time, Maduro accused Obama of failing to live up to a commitment not to "interfere with Venezuelan affairs."

"What you have said has not been carried out," he said.

The United States and Venezuela have not had resident ambassadors since 2010, although they have maintained diplomatic missions and active embassies.

Maduro's call to exchange ambassadors comes after his government accused American diplomats of using a visa program as cover to meet with with youth organizers at private universities "for training, financing and creating youth organizations through which violence is promoted in Venezuela."

    The expulsion, which President Nicolas Maduro first announced Sunday, comes after the State Department expressed concerns about rising tensions in Venezuela.

    Maduro's news conference comes amid questions of whether he can hold onto control of the country amid rising demonstrations.

    Venezuela's western state of Tachira became a flashpoint Friday between anti-government protesters and security forces.

    Protesters blocked off some of the main roads in the capital, San Cristobal, public transportation was paralyzed, and few businesses were open.

    Maduro's government has responded strongly to protests in Tachira as he faces the largest demonstrations since coming to power almost a year ago.

    The country's interior minister, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, has announced a new plan to restore order in Tachira, which, he said, may include sending a battalion of paratroopers there.

    "This battalion will reinforce the units that find themselves on the major roadways that converge in this city," Rodriguez said Thursday.

    The military is necessary because the government believes that people from across the border in Colombia are crossing into Tachira to make trouble, Rodriguez said.

    Meanwhile, the government on Friday said that eight people have died in the violence related to the protests and clashes.

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    Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said another 137 have been injured.

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    Four people were killed in Caracas, two in Carabobo state, one in Sucre state and one in Lara state, he said.

    The government and the opposition blame each other for the deaths.

    Maduro singled out one opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, as responsible for calling for the protests.

    Lopez turned himself in to authorities this week, and he was charged Thursday with arson and conspiracy. More serious charges of murder and terrorism were dropped.

    If convicted, Lopez could face up to 10 years in prison.

    The unrest

    During the demonstrations, supporters of the country's socialist government and anti-government protesters have flooded social media with reports of violence, making drastically different claims about who's behind it.

    Since February 13, more than 2,000 stories from Venezuela have been uploaded to iReport, CNN's user-generated platform. Many of the videos and photos depict violent scenes between demonstrators and government forces.

    He also called out called out CNN, Fox and other U.S.-based media, claiming that they are encouraging opposition forces against the government

    Alejandro Camacho Beomont told iReport that students Wednesday blocked streets and burned debris in San Cristobal, from where he sent photos -- and he said he didn't blame them.

    "Even though I am always looking for peace to make a better place to live, I think people have the right to express themselves in the ways they can, and it is not easy to express yourself in this country now," he said. "I support the protesters. There have been more than 15 years that the majority of the Venezuelan citizens are going through tough times. There are so many problems we have to face every day, and there seems to be not a sincere attitude from the high government officials to rectify (them)."

    In a nationally televised broadcast Wednesday night, Maduro described bullet wounds sustained by government forces during protests and showed videos that he said depicted opposition protesters throwing stones and setting buses ablaze.

    "You think this is a novel? This is the reality that you with your hatred have created," he said. "If you don't like Venezuela, leave."

        Unrest in Venezuela

      • maduro amanpour us relations america christiane nicolas venezuela_00001816.jpg

        Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is unapologetic about his government's response to opposition protesters during weeks of unrest in the South American country.
      • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference in Caracas on February 21, 2014. The death toll from escalating anti-government protests in Venezuela jumped to eight on Friday, as President Nicolas Maduro's leftist administration threatened to cut off fuel to areas "under fascist siege."

        Venezuela's President severed diplomatic relations with Panama Wednesday, accusing the Central American nation of being a "lackey" for the United States.
      • Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro invited CNN's Karl Penhaul to ask a question in a nationally televised news conference Friday, February 21, 2014. Earlier Maduro called out CNN, Fox and other US-based media claiming that they are encouraging opposition forces against the government.

        There's an attempted coup in progress in Venezuela, orchestrated and directed by elites in the United States, believes Maduro.
      • Leopoldo Lopez (C), an ardent opponent of Venezuela's socialist government facing an arrest warrant after President Nicolas Maduro ordered his arrest on charges of homicide and inciting violence, is escorted by the national guard into a vehicle after he turned himself in, during a demonstration in Caracas, on February 18, 2014. Fugitive Venezuelan opposition leader Lopez, blamed by Maduro for violent clashes that left three people dead last week, appeared at an anti-government rally in eastern Caracas and quickly surrendered to the National Guard after delivering a brief speech. AFP PHOTO / CRISTIAN HERNANDEZCRISTIAN HERNANDEZ/AFP/Getty Images

        When Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in to authorities, he did it on his terms -- and not before delivering a passionate message to his supporters.
      • Anti-government students march under a huge flag during a protest in front of the Venezuelan Judiciary building in Caracas on February 15, 2014.

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      • WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 14:  U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to the press during a news conference on the terror attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi February 14, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The senator questioned why the Obama Administration did not seek enough help from the Libya government during the attack.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

        Sen. John McCain reacts to the arrest of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, saying Venezuelans are fed up with socialism.