Opposition leader: Venezuela anti-government efforts advance

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's fractured opposition coalition is advancing in its efforts to unite around a new plan of action as the country's economic crisis deepens, a key anti-government leader says.

Henrique Capriles told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that meetings in recent weeks with other anti-government leaders have been productive.

He declined to reveal details of the closed-door talks but said an announcement would come soon.

The former presidential candidate and ex-governor said that the opposition's challenge now is to unite frustrated Venezuelans who have recently begun holding small protests around the nation to project a single political message.

Residents have been taking to the streets, upset that their paychecks are being pulverized by rampant inflation and the government's failure to reliably provide basic services such as water and electricity.

"It's a challenge for the nurses, teachers and everybody to follow the same path, to articulate the same political message," Capriles said.

Incumbent Nicolas Maduro in 2013 defeated Capriles for the presidency, and last year officials disqualified him from participating in any election for 15 years on grounds of alleged administrative irregularities during his tenure as governor. Capriles denies the allegations.

He acknowledged that Venezuela's opposition has struggled to rekindle momentum after near-daily protests that drew thousands to the streets died out after four months last year. He said now is the time to unite.

"Either we do it fast and we do it now — or we disappear," Capriles said.

Capriles said that Venezuela's crippling economic crisis could soon force embattled President Nicolas Maduro back to the negotiating table.

Several rounds of mediated talks between the government and opposition last year failed to reach any agreement, but Capriles now thinks they would be more fruitful, given the government's weakening position.

The International Monetary Fund recently projected that Venezuela's inflation this year could top 1 million percent, comparing the country's economic turmoil to Germany's after World War I and Zimbabwe's at the beginning of the last decade. It said Venezuela's economic fall was among the world's deepest in six decades.

"Each day, the government's room to maneuver is reduced," Capriles said.

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