Venezuela president appeals to Pope Francis for help as violence in anti-government protests intensifies

(Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)A demonstrator clashes with riot security forces while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, June 10, 2017.

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has stated that he will ask Pope Francis to mediate in the country's political conflict with opposition groups, as the violence in anti-government protests has escalated.

On Sunday, Maduro said that he would ask the pope to persuade his opponents to stop "training children" to take part in the anti-government protests that have roiled the Venezuelan capital of Caracas since April.

"I am going to ask Pope Francis to help us so the opposition end the violence, but more than anything to stop looking for children to involve in violent acts," Maduro stated in a weekly television broadcast, according to Reuters.

Teenagers wearing face masks and throwing rocks have been regularly seen in the violent protests, that has resulted in the deaths of 67 people, six of whom were under 18.

Thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators have been on the streets since April to express their rage over the delayed elections and worsening food shortages. Smaller groups have thrown rocks and petrol bombs at the police, prompting them to respond with tear gas and water cannons at the demonstrators.

Both sides have asked the Vatican to come up with a solution, but church-mediated talks broke down last year in acrimony.

The relationship between the government and Venezuela's Catholic hierarchy have become increasingly strained this year, with a spate of violent attacks targeting churches and other religious institutions.

On Thursday, the country's bishop's conference delivered a letter to the Pope, accusing the government of being a dictatorship.

Crux reported that there have been widespread attempts to suggest that there is a split between the country's bishops and the pope. But after a meeting with the pontiff on Thursday, the bishops said that the pope told them they have his "full trust."

"He told us that that he's very close to us and very well informed about the situation of Venezuela, and very close to the suffering of the people," said Archbishop Diego Padrón, president of the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference.

"And he also told us that we have his full trust, and we have a great communion with him and his magisterium, so there's no distance between him and the conference," he added.

The prelates gave Francis a list of people who have been killed in the protests in the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities, as well as a detailed documentation of what the conference has done so far.

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