Pope's envoy warns of bloodshed if Venezuela talks fail: paper

November 5, 2016 4:39 PM EDT

Opposition supporters take part in a rally demanding a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in San Cristobal, Venezuela November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez


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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Venezuela is going through a "very ugly" situation and there could be bloodshed ahead if talks between the government and opposition fail, a papal envoy told an Argentine newspaper after his visit to Venezuela this week.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli had been in Caracas for Vatican-convened talks as an angry opposition stepped up its protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro after authorities scuttled a recall referendum.

The oil-rich country is also suffering from a prolonged recession and severe shortages of food and medicine.

In an interview published Saturday in Argentina's La Nacion newspaper, Celli did not hide his concern, as he described "exhausting" late-night talks with the two sides.

"If it happens that one side or the other wants to end the dialogue, it's not the pope but the Venezuelan people who will lose, because the road ahead could truly be that of blood," Pope Francis' envoy told the paper from Rome.

"And there are people who would not be afraid of bloodshed. That is what worries me."

Maduro's adversaries accuse him of creating a dictatorship. They insist the government should allow the referendum, release dozens of jailed opposition activists and respect congressional decisions.

But there is no indication Maduro will agree to any of their demands, and in a speech this week he criticized their timetable and urged patience.

"There is no doubt that the situation is very ugly," said Celli. "Not just politically, but at a social and economic level. There is no food or medicine."

Celli's concern mirrored remarks on Friday by Tom Shannon, a top U.S. diplomat who also was in Caracas this week and called the talks "the last best effort to try to find a negotiated, peaceful solution to this."

"Absent this dialogue process," Shannon said, "Venezuela will find itself in a state in which both the government and the opposition will have to measure themselves through their ability to put people on to the streets."

Celli is due to return to Venezuela for the next round of talks on November 11. Shannon said Washington would support the talks "as long as it remains viable."

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Mary Milliken)



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