Pope to Venezuela: Avoid more violence and respect human rights
Pope Francis has appealed to leaders of Venezuela's government and society to avoid more violence after four weeks of political turmoil that has produced a mounting number of dead, injured and arrests.
Francis told faithful gathered in St Peter's Square that, united in sorrow with the families of victims, he was making a heartfelt appeal to "the government and all the components of the Venezuelan society so that every further form of violence is avoided, human rights are respected and negotiated solutions are sought".
The comments came a day after Francis, the first Latin American pope, expressed frustration that Vatican-sponsored negotiations to resolve Venezuela's political impasse had not succeeded, in part because of what he cited as divisions within the opposition.
"All that can be done for Venezuela must be done with the needed guarantees, otherwise we are just making fun of each other and the thing won't work," he told reporters travelling with him from Egypt. He said any negotiations under the Holy See's auspices would require "very clear conditions".
Venezuela's opposition broke off the talks in December, saying the government had failed to meet a litany of demands that included release of political prisoners and setting a new date for cancelled gubernatorial elections.
The collapse of those talks has made it harder for the two sides to re-engage during the latest unrest, with the opposition galvanising an outpouring of public anger with socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who they blame for widespread food shortages and triple-digit inflation.
In a public letter to Francis on Sunday, the opposition dismissed the notion that there are divisions within its ranks and outlined its key demands that have been behind the almost daily protests that have already claimed 29 deaths.
"The only dialogue acceptable in Venezuela today is the dialogue of voting, which is the only way to overcome the crisis and re-establish Venezuela's kidnapped democracy," the Democratic Unity alliance said.