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Venezuela halts opposition talks after Maduro ally extradited to US

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This is a mural in support of the liberation of Colombian envoy Alex Saab, in Caracas, Venezuela September 9, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The Venezuelan government has decided to suspend talks with the opposition in protest to the extradition of a Colombian envoy to the United States.

The speaker of Congress, Jorge Rodriguez, said on Saturday that the government will not attend the next session due to start Sunday "as a deep expression of our protest against the brutal aggression" against Alex Saab.

Venezuela’s Ministry of Communications denounced his extradition as a "kidnapping."

Caracas had intended to name Saab a part of the delegation to the talks in Mexico City.

Saab, a Colombian businessman and a close ally to President Nicolas Maduro, was arrested in June 2020 when his plane stopped in Cape Verde to refuel. He was extradited to the US on Saturday.

A US Justice Department spokesperson confirmed Saab's extradition and said he is expected to make his initial court appearance on Monday in the Southern District of Florida.

US charged Saab in 2019 in connection with a bribery scheme and sanctioned him for allegedly orchestrating a corruption network that allowed Caracas to profit from a state-run food subsidy program.

Saab's lawyers have denied the US charges as "politically motivated."

US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido reacted to the decision to suspend the talks, accusing the government of evading the nation’s problems.

The negotiations mediated by Norway and hosted by Mexico aim to resolve the years-long crisis in the Latin American country.

Caracas aims to ease US-led sanctions on the Venezuelan nation while the opposition says it aims to use the talks to secure guarantees for regional elections to be held in the fall.

Guaido sparked a political crisis in January 2019, after unilaterally declaring himself “interim president.”

Washington has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Venezuela aimed at ousting Maduro and replacing him with Guaido. The sanctions, which include illegal confiscation of Venezuelan assets abroad and an economic blockade, have caused enormous suffering to millions of people in the country.

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