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Vatican to mediate in Venezuela peace talks
09 April 2014 18:29 by Isabel de Bertodano, Abigail Frymann Rouch

The Vatican is to mediate in talks intended to halt Venezuela’s worst political unrest in a decade.

President Nicolas Maduro's Government and Venezuela's main opposition group agreed yesterday to begin talks.

Representatives of the South American regional bloc Unasur will also mediate, both sides said.

Clashes between security forces and pro-government militants and opposition demonstrators have killed 39 people since mid-February, according to official figures.

The crisis in Venezuela has erupted following protests over high inflation, crime and food shortages, with some demonstrators vowing to bring down the Government.

The dead have included government supporters, their opponents, and members of the security forces.

Formal talks are set to begin tomorrow.

In a letter, the Venezuelan Government formally invited the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who is a former papal nuncio to a Venezuela, to be named a "good faith witness" to the dialogue.

A Vatican spokesman confirmed the Church's willingness to mediate, but gave no more details. The Holy See has said that it is willing to send Parolin.

Last week the Venezuelan bishops accused the Government of Nicolás Maduro of repression and violence, suggesting that the country is no longer ruled democratically.

In their strongest statement on the continued hostility between opposition supporters and the Government, the bishops said that the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations had achieved nothing.

The cause of the crisis, said the statement, was the Government’s attempt to implement its six-year plan, known as Plan de la Patria, “behind which hides a totalitarian system of government”.

The statement was read last week by the President of the Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Diego Padrón, who said the Government “was mistaken in its attempt to resolve the crisis with violence” but emphasised that the Church remained politically impartial.

“We denounce the abusive and disproportionate repression, the torture used on those who have been detained and the persecution of mayors and deputies who are opposed to the official party,” said Archbishop Padrón, who was accompanied by Cardinal Jorge Urosa.

The Jesuit provincial in Venezuela, Fr Arturo Peraza, said that the country had become ungovernable without dialogue between the two sides.

“We have reached the stage where the question is no longer whether negotiation is viable but how many deaths and how much pain is needed before the two sides sit down and talk?” he said during a debate on the crisis.