CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's opposition refused to return to reconciliation talks with the government of President Nicolás Maduro on Thursday, opening a fresh breach in a national dialogue that observers hoped could ease the country's deepening political and economic crises.

A key factor in the decision, opposition officials said, was a top government official's "false" claim this week that opposition leaders had helped security forces locate the hideout of a rogue former police officer whose lone-wolf insurrection had captured the nation's attention. The renegade officer was subsequently killed. The government's claim appeared designed to further taint the image of opposition leaders, who already are facing a crisis of confidence with their base. 

The talks are seen as a last-ditch effort to pave the way for a free and fair presidential election this year, in which the embattled Maduro is expected to seek another term. The announcement comes amid a rash of looting and food riots nationwide, as basic staples have become scarcer in a country saddled with the world's highest inflation rate.

The talks — taking place on neutral ground in the Dominican Republic — appeared to be stalled rather than dead. But the infuriated opposition gave no hard timeline for returning to the table. 

"The government must create the minimum conditions necessary to keep this dialogue going," the opposition's representatives wrote in a statement on Twitter.

In a televised speech Tuesday, Interior Minister Néstor Reverol publicly claimed that opposition leaders had leaked the secret location of Óscar Pérez, a helicopter pilot who became a symbol of resistance after he launched a mini-rebellion against Maduro last year. He hijacked a helicopter and dropped grenades on the pro-Maduro supreme court.

Pérez died this week in the raid after posting social media images that showed his face bloodied before a final assault claimed his life. He said security forces were trying to kill him instead of letting him surrender.

The opposition demanded that Reverol retract the claim that its members had helped locate Pérez. But Luis Florido, an opposition leader who has participated in the talks, said in a phone interview that even if the minister does not back down, the opposition is likely to return to the table. He suggested that the decision to skip Thursday's session was largely symbolic. 

The move was meant "to pressure [the government] and force them to respect us," Florido said. 

The Venezuelan opposition is struggling to regroup and apply pressure on Maduro, the anointed successor of leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013 after victories in elections that critics say were rigged. The opposition agreed to sit for talks after its unexpected defeat in gubernatorial elections in mid-October.

The opposition is demanding the release of political prisoners, acceptance of humanitarian aid, and guaranteed free and fair presidential elections. The government is asking for recognition of an all-powerful and pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly, which was installed in August and rejected by dozens of countries. It also is demanding that the opposition support the lifting of international economic sanctions — especially measures imposed by President Trump last year that target Maduro and other top officials. 

The latest round of talks began in December, hosted by Dominican President Danilo Medina and mediated by former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as well as envoys from Nicaragua, Bolivia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Chile and Mexico. 

On Jan. 6, the Mexican and Chilean envoys said they might pull out of the talks because of "some decisions by the Venezuelan government . . . that aren't congruent with what has been discussed at the table." Those decisions include the Constituent Assembly's move last month to make it harder for opposition parties to field presidential candidates. 

Anthony Faiola in Miami contributed to this report.