Venezuela leaders must start talks, stop arrests: US

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday urged Venezuelan leaders to talk to their own people and stop a wave of arrests as he revealed hopes of finding a way to mediate an end to the crisis.

"It seems to me what has to happen now is for (the) Venezuelan leadership to deal with their own people," Mr Kerry told reporters.

"They need to reach out and have a dialogue, and bring people together and resolve their problems," he said.

"We need a dialogue within Venezuela, not arrests and violence in the streets and persecution against young people who are voicing their hopes for a future." After talks with his Colombian counterpart Maria Holguin, the top US diplomat said Washington was also working with Bogota and other countries to see if some kind of mediation might be possible in Venezuela's political crisis.

"It's obviously already proven very difficult for the two sides to bring themselves together by themselves," Mr Kerry added.

His spokeswoman Jen Psaki later confirmed that Washington was hoping to find a "third party mediator" but that the US, which has difficult ties to Venezuela, was not planning to take on the role.

"The third party would need to be someone both the government and the opposition trusts and welcomes," she said.

On Wednesday the Venezuelan opposition spurned crisis talks called by the government of President Nicolas Maduro aimed at trying to halt three weeks of protests that have left 17 dead.

Students and the opposition have hit the streets of the capital Caracas and other cities, denouncing rampant street crime and protesting shortages of basic goods and inflation, as well as a government crackdown on demonstrators Venezuela has also arrested one opposition leader and reportedly issued a warrant for the arrest of another.

US lawmakers meanwhile introduced a measure on Friday condemning such oppressive tactics and urging President Barack Obama to impose sanctions on those responsible for the crackdown.

The bipartisan resolution expresses House members' firm support for Venezuela's pro-democracy demonstrators and urges other governments and organizations in the region to stand in solidarity with the protesters and help bring about a dialogue to end the crisis.

Mr Kerry said it was right to begin "thinking about those incentives, or those measures, that are appropriate for actions that have been taken ... that have a profoundly negative effect on people's rights on their freedom."

Mr Kerry also denounced the Venezuelan leadership's "fiction" blaming Washington for fomenting the unrest, "even though we've had absolutely literally no intrusive engagement or effort."