White House urges Venezuela's Maduro to talk to critics

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a rally in Caracas on May 14, 2016 (AFP Photo/Juan Barreto )

Washington (AFP) - The White House expressed concern about Venezuela's rapidly worsening political situation Monday, urging President Nicolas Maduro to listen to critics inside the country or risk deepening the crisis.

Treading carefully to avoid making Washington a foil for the country's populist leaders, White House spokesman Josh Earnest described recent reports from Venezuela as "breathtaking."

"The conditions for the Venezuelan population are terrible," he said as the country braced for more upheaval.

President Nicolas Maduro is preparing to unveil the scope of a new emergency decree as the opposition readies protests against what it calls a bid to cling to power.

The White house urged Maduro to listen to those voices and solve the plethora of problems facing the country -- from economic collapse to drought to power cuts.

"The solution to these challenges will require the inclusion of all interested parties," Earnest said.

"Now is the time for leaders to listen to diverse Venezuelan voices and work together peacefully to truly to find solutions."

"The failure to do that only puts hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Venezuelans at risk of further suffering."

Maduro has also ordered military exercises for Saturday to prepare for what he calls the threat of an armed intervention backed by the United States at the behest of the "fascist Venezuelan right."

Maduro, the hand-picked successor of the late Hugo Chavez, has presided over a collapse of Venezuela's economy since he took charge in 2013.

Seven in 10 Venezuelans want a change in government, and 97 percent say their lives have gotten worse, according to recent polls.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro, has warned the country is "a bomb that could explode any minute."

The opposition says it has collected 1.8 million signatures backing a referendum to remove Maduro from power.

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