By Deisy Buitrago and Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition must abandon hypocrisy and recognize its mistakes if it wants to restart talks with the ruling party, which were suspended in October, National Assembly president Jorge Rodriguez said on Wednesday.

Negotiations in Mexico between Venezuela’s government and opposition politicians ground to a halt late last year after Colombian businessman Alex Saab, an ally of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, was extradited to the United States to face money laundering charges.

Talks can begin once Alex Saab is released and when control of foreign assets is returned to the government, Rodriguez said at the opening of the ruling party-controlled assembly’s new session.

“Enough with the hypocrisy of dialogue … if you want talks, show respect, if you want talks free Alex Saab, if you want talks return our gold which you stole,” said Rodrigo, who led the government delegation in Mexico.

Earlier on Wednesday, opposition leader Juan Guaido had urged a restart to talks to establish fairness guarantees for voters ahead of the 2024 presidential elections.

“Free and fair elections won’t come alone or for the false words of Jorge Rodriguez,” Guaido said.

The ruling party took control of the National Assembly in elections last year, but Guaido and an opposition commission drawn from those elected to parliament in 2015, who enacted reforms to extend their own mandate, continue to control Venezuela’s assets abroad, such as U.S. oil refiner Citgo and Colombian fertilizer manufacturer, Monomeros.

Maduro this week ordered the National Assembly to investigate the opposition politicians who widened the commission’s mandate. The opposition alleges Maduro’s election in 2018 was fraudulent and he is an illegitimate leader.

The extension was backed by Maduro’s bete noir, the United States, which ramped up sanctions against the government two years ago.

Dozens of western countries originally supported Guaido as Venezuela’s leader, but since 2021 legislative elections a number of countries and the European Union back him only as a leading opposition figure.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago and Mayela Armas; writing by Oliver Griffin; editing by Richard Pullin)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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