Pope pleads for 'end to violence' in Venezuela

Pope Francis says he is concerned about recent unrest in Venezuela, in which at least 13 people have died.

Speaking at the end of his weekly general audience, the Pope said he hoped that "violence and hostility will cease as soon as possible".

He called on the Venezuelan people "to promote reconciliation through mutual forgiveness and sincere dialogue".

His appeal came after more than two weeks of anti-government protests, some of which have ended in violent clashes.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, left, gives Pope Francis a statuette of Jose Gregorio Hernandez on the occasion of their private audience at the Vatican on 17 June, 2013 The Pope met Mr Maduro last year in the Vatican just two months after the Venezuelan leader was elected
Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles shakes hand with Pope Francis during a meeting on 6 November, 2013 In November, opposition leader Henrique Capriles gave the Pope letters from Venezuelan youths
Mounting unrest

Venezuela's Attorney General Luisa Ortega says 13 people have died in protest-related violence, but opposition groups say the number of dead has risen to at least 15 after the death of two more protesters on Monday.

And on Wednesday, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said a Spanish national had been killed during a demonstration in Venezuela's third-largest city, Valencia.

Mr Garcia-Margallo did not say how the Spaniard was killed.

The recent unrest started in the western state of Tachira and neighbouring Merida at the beginning of February.

Students took to the streets, angered by Venezuela's high crime rate and economic woes, including record inflation and shortages of basic goods.

Protesters stand atop a container at a roadblock at a street of San Cristobal, capital of the western border state of Tachira, on 21 February, 2014 Protesters have blockaded roads in the capital Caracas and in other cities, such as San Cristobal

After the arrest of dozens of students, the protests spread to the capital, Caracas.

Anti-government protesters have held daily protests since, especially in their stronghold in eastern Caracas, where they have erected barricades.

Roads were also blocked in various locations in the states of Maracaibo, Tachira, Carabobo and Aragua, but the protests seem to have diminished in intensity over the past days.

'Last legs'

In an interview with BBC Mundo, opposition leader Henrique Capriles blamed President Maduro for the poor state of the Venezuelan economy.

Henrique Capriles: "This government is wasting away"

"Nicolas [Maduro] is the one who has to answer for the economic crisis. And if there's no answer, then this creates a political crisis, and if there's no answer to the political crisis, the regime falls," he told BBC Mundo's Daniel Pardo.

Mr Capriles, who narrowly lost to Mr Maduro in April's presidential election, said the government was "on its last legs".

He said the government was "set on a self-destructive course".

Mr Capriles, who has repeatedly called for peaceful demonstrations and urged his supporters to refrain from erecting barricades, stressed that he "wanted change for my country, but within the constitution".

Meanwhile, supporters of President Maduro have been holding rival rallies over the past weeks to show their backing for the government.

President Maduro has called a "national conference for peace" for Wednesday to end the protests, but opposition leaders have already announced they will not attend the meeting.

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