Pope Francis on Sunday made a heartfelt appeal for “negotiated solutions” to end the violence in crisis-torn Venezuela for the sake of an “exhausted population”.
“Dramatic news on the worsening of the situation in Venezuela keeps coming in with numerous deaths, injuries and prisoners,” the pontiff said before a 70,000 crowd attending weekly prayers in Saint Peter’s Square.
“United in sorrow with the families of the victims… I issue a sincere appeal to the government and all sectors of Venezuelan society to avoid all forms of violence henceforward,” said the pontiff.
The pope urged respect for human rights in a country riven by social conflict and “negotiated solutions to a grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis wearing down the populace”.
Francis prayed for “peace, reconciliation and democracy” in what he termed a “beloved” nation.
Returning overnight from a visit to Egypt, he had said the Holy See was willing to act as an intermediary under “clear conditions”. Part of the Venezuelan opposition is, however, opposed to the Church getting involved.
Anti-government demonstrators have held weeks of protests against beleaguered Socialist President Nicolas Maduro which have culminated in 28 deaths in clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters, according to prosecutors.
More than 400 people have been injured, and nearly 1,300 arrested, according to the attorney general.
Venezuela has suffered an economic collapse fuelled by a plunge in international prices for its crucial oil exports.
Maduro says the shortages and the protests are part of a US-backed plot to topple him.
To mark the start of a second month of protest, the opposition has called for nationwide protests Mnoday.