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Pope Francis calls for 'diplomatic solution' to end violence in Venezuela

Pope Francis has called for an end to violence in Venezuela as anti-government protests enter their third month. He also expressed solidarity with the families of those killed, days after the death toll rose to 89.

As deadly anti-government protests continue to take place in Venezuela, Pope Francis appealed for a peaceful solution on Sunday.

"I assure this dear nation of my prayers and express my closeness to the families who have lost their children in the street protests," the Argentina-born pope said at the end of a prayer in Saint Peter's Square.

"I call for an end to violence and a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis," he added.

His appeal came two days after four protesters aged 20 to 49 died, raising the death toll to 89 since the protests erupted three months ago. No official details were provided on their deaths, although one opposition lawmaker said the victims died by gunfire.

Demonstrators have been calling for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose  term in office runs until January 2019.

Maduro is blamed for the current economic crisis, which has led to massive shortages in food, medicine and other basic goods.

Vatican-sponsored talks to mediate in the Venezuelan crisis broke down last year. Recently, Venezuelan bishops traveled to the Vatican to brief Francis on their criticism of the actions of Venezuelan authorities.

rs/jm (AP, AFP)

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