Venezuela enables opposition coalition to participate in elections

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela will allow a coalition of major opposition political parties to field candidates in upcoming elections, the head of the electoral council said on Tuesday, as the opposition and government prepare to enter into a negotiation process.

The South American country's supreme court in 2018 ruled that the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), which groups large opposition parties, could not participate in elections, arguing candidates could not be members of both the MUD and the individual political parties that form it.

The lifting of that ban by National Electoral Council (CNE) President Pedro Calzadilla comes after several actions by President Nicolas Maduro seen by some diplomats and analysts as olive branches to the opposition of state and local elections in November in the midst of a years-long political crisis.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido has not said whether or not he believes opposition candidates should take part in the upcoming vote, after the mainstream opposition boycotted presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018 and 2020, respectively, arguing they were rigged in favor of Maduro's ruling socialist party.

The opposition, backed by the United States and most Western democracies, labels Maduro a dictator who has clung to power through rigged elections and persecution of opponents. Maduro, supported by Russia and China, labels Guaido a puppet of Washington seeking to oust him in a coup.

Tuesday's move comes after the socialist-held National Assembly in May named opposition-linked figures to a new elections council for the first time in years, and after Maduro said he would be willing to negotiate with Guaido in an effort to ease tensions and convince Washington to lift sanctions.

"This step is an opportunity to regroup and rebuild the alternative for political change," opposition politician Stalin Gonzalez, who participated in a prior round of negotiations in 2019, wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by David Gregorio)

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