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Venezuela's Maduro meets Pope amid worsening crisis

Venezuela's government and the opposition are to meet on October 30 to try to resolve a political crisis, a papal envoy says. The announcement followed a private meeting between President Nicolas Maduro and Pope Francis.

The Vatican confirmed a meeting took place on Monday between the pontiff and the Venezuelan leader, amid a worsening political standoff between the government and the opposition, who want Maduro removed from office.

According to a Vatican statement, the pope urged Maduro to follow the path of "sincere and constructive dialogue" to alleviate the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

The Vatican has been attempting to mediate a resolution to the political crisis, and opposition leaders on Monday met with Church representatives in Caracas.

New talks scheduled

A few minutes after Maduro's meeting ended, a Vatican envoy confirmed that talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition would take place on Sunday. The Vatican and the regional bloc UNASUR will also attend.

The sides "started a national dialogue with the purpose of establishing conditions for holding a plenary meeting on October 30," Emil Paul Tscherrig, the Vatican's envoy to Argentina, told a news conference.

There was no indication Maduro would participate in the talks.

Monday's meeting happened just a day after Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly started proceedings to put Maduro on trial for violating the democratic order, in retaliation for the cancellation of a recall referendum against the unpopular leftist president.

Venezuela Parliament

Parliament is now deciding whether to put Maduro on trial

The opposition says he pressured judicial and electoral authorities to stop the vote.

Crisis worsens

A major oil producer, Venezuela is suffering some of the worst effects of the current oil price crunch. An economic crisis has led to severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods, leading to widespread outrage at Maduro.

The opposition says the president is inept and must leave office before the crisis worsens, while he vows not to be pushed out by what he has called a power-hungry elite.

Also on Monday, several hundred students burned rubbish and set up roadblocks in the volatile border city of San Cristobal near Colombia. The city, a hotbed of anti-Maduro sentiment, was the site of the worst violence during protests two years ago that led to 43 deaths around the nation.

"We want freedom" chanted the protesters, who closed several roads under the watch of police and troops.

mm/gsw (AFP, AP, Reuters)