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Pope Francis Speaks Out on Venezuela Violence

Pope Francis poses with a group of priests at the end his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican Feb. 26, 2014.
Pope Francis is calling for "sincere dialogue" in his first public comments on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. He asked people to pray for the country.

Dozens of NGOs also condemned the violence Wednesday.

"I am following with particular apprehension the events that are unfolding these days in Venezuela,'' Pope Francis said during the weekly audience Wednesday in St. Peter's square at the Vatican.

"I hope the violence and hostility comes to an end and all the Venezuelan people, starting from those in politics and the institutions, strive for national reconciliation through reciprocal forgiveness and dialogue, respecting truth and justice and ready to confront issues for the good of the whole community'' he said.

Pope Francis said he hoped "the country quickly returns to peace and calm".

The Pontiff invited all Catholics "to pray to God, through the maternal intercession of our Lady of Coromoto [the patron saint of Venezuela]", for peace and harmony to return to Venezuela.

In a meeting at the Presidency with Governors and mayors, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reiterated Monday night an invitation to dialogue with various political and social sectors on Wednesday.

"I am confident that [the dialogue] will lead to important agreements regarding the future of the nation. But foremost we must respect ourselves and respect the Constitution", Maduro said in Spanish at the end of the meeting. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles refused to attend in a show of opposition to what he described as the "violation of human rights and repression" against protesters.

Meanwhile, dozens of NGOs are condemning the violence in Venezuela.

52 organizations from 16 countries, including the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference and others are demanding a government investigation to find those responsible.

A statement signed by the coalition of human rights organizations that includes Amnesty International and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) says "the Venezuelan State must carry out ex officio investigations that are independent, impartial and effective, to shed light on the violence, regardless of whether they were perpetrated by protesters, armed civilians or occurred as a result of excessive use of force by Venezuelan police or military officials.

The statement added that "government security bodies must maintain public order through means and methods that are respectful of human rights".

"The use of lethal force and firearms by officials of the State - the statement said - should be exceptional and limited by the principles of proportionality, necessity and humanity".

A similar statement was issued by the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference and 22 NGOs, noting "the defenselessness of citizens before armed groups - not police or military - that have lashed out against the population".

A sign reading "Without free press, there is no democracy", during a protest by newspaper workers and opposition parties in Caracas, Feb. 11, 2014.
A sign reading "Without free press, there is no democracy", during a protest by newspaper workers and opposition parties in Caracas, Feb. 11, 2014.

Press Censorship

The Inter-American Press Association, (IAPA) is condemning Venezuela for censoring the press.

In an interview with VOA, Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Press Freedom and Information said his organization considers President Nicolas Maduro's administration's actions a violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

IAPA also condemned the hostile treatment faced by national and foreign media.

Paolillo was critical of the Organization of American States (OAS) for not taking a more active role to protect journalists working in Venezuela.

Additional reporting by Luis Alberto Facal