Pope Francis urged on Sunday for an end to the violence that has marred the anti-government protests in Venezuela.
He called for the respect of human rights where nearly 30 people were killed in unrest this month.
Francis, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, decried a “grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.
Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution …,” he said.
Supporters say Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed head of the hardline opposition Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners whose arrests symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.
Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.
Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down.
Francis told reporters on the plane returning from Cairo on Saturday that “very clear conditions” were necessary for the talks to resume.
On Friday, Venezuela formally notified the Organization of American States of its intention to leave the regional body amid the protests at home and international calls for its embattled government to hold delayed elections and release prisoners.
Venezuelan interim ambassador Carmen Velasquez submitted a letter announcing the move in Washington to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, a strong critic of socialist President Maduro.
The notice begins a two-year exit process from the Western Hemisphere’s largest diplomatic body, which had become a forum for its neighbors to exert pressure on Venezuela.
“This is a historic moment that marks a new independence for Venezuela and the region,” said Velasquez, adding that Venezuela would be the first country to leave the Washington-based bloc this way. “We are not going to be participating in any OAS activities.”
On Friday, hundreds marched to a military prison outside Caracas to demand the release of opposition Lopez and other jailed activists they consider political prisoners.
The march was part of an intensifying campaign by the opposition to force Maduro from office. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in almost four weeks of street clashes.