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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2019 file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a press conference with foreign media at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela. A member of Venezuela's opposition said Friday, June 7, that a mediation effort by Norway is stalling over Maduro's refusal to accept presidential elections to resolve the nation's political crisis. (AP Photo/Boris Vergara, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido said Friday that the opposition's demand for a presidential election is not negotiable, slowing mediation efforts by Norway aimed at resolving Venezuela's political crisis.

"A new meeting isn't planned at the moment, until we can get what we've proposed on the agenda," said Guaido at a rally in the central city of Valencia.

Guaido's comment shows how hard it will be to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis in Venezuela, which has endured economic and political turmoil for years. Past talks between the government of President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition have collapsed, deepening the acrimony between the two sides.

The government of Maduro did not immediately reply but has previously suggested that elections be held for the opposition-controlled congress, rather than for the presidency.

Russia's state news agency Tass quoted Alexander Shchetinin, the Russian Foreign Ministry's director for Latin America, as saying that he understood another round of Norway-mediated talks would happen next week.

Norway has hosted two rounds of exploratory talks in Oslo between the Venezuelan government and opposition in the past month. While little about the talks has been announced, the opposition has insisted the starting point for negotiations be a willingness by Maduro to hold elections within a reasonable time frame.

Also Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, urging him to set up a unit to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes by Maduro and his associates.

"The long list of Maduro's crimes includes the illegal mining and trafficking of minerals, transnational drug trafficking, and theft of substantial sums of money from the Venezuelan government and hiding it in offshore bank accounts worldwide," Rubio said.

Maduro has denied any illegal activity and says the U.S. wants to overthrow him as a way to exploit Venezuela's vast oil resources.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said Friday that the number of Venezuelans who have left their country in recent years has surpassed 4 million.

The U.N. refugee agency said the number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants rose by 1 million after November, indicating a rapid escalation as economic conditions deteriorated and the conflict between Maduro and the opposition intensified.

Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled congress in January declared himself interim president, drawing recognition as Venezuela's rightful leader from the U.S. and more than 50 nations.

But Maduro, with the support of the military and allies Cuba and Russia, has defiantly held on to power.

A record number of Venezuelans have fled the country's crisis, with Latin American countries hosting most of them.

On Friday, President Donald Trump's administration said it will recognize the validity of Venezuelan passports for five years beyond their printed expiration dates. The State Department announced that the passports will be considered valid for visa applications and entry into the United States in recognition of a decision by Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael Weissenstein, Andrea Rodriguez and Jim Heintz of The Associated Press.

A Section on 06/08/2019

Print Headline: Venezuela mediation hits snags in Norway


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