CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) — A week of protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has left 35 people dead and 850 detained, non-governmental organisations said on Monday.
“We have the corroborated figure, with first name, surname, place and presumed guilty parties, of 35 people murdered in the context of the protests” since Monday last week, said Rafael Uzcategui, director of the Venezuelan Program for Education-Action in Human Rights.
Another NGO, Foro Penal, said 850 people, among them 77 minors, have been arrested.
At the same time, Pope Francis said he was terrified the political crisis enveloping the country would descend into a “bloodbath”.
“What am I afraid of? A bloodbath,” the first Latin American pontiff told journalists aboard a plane on his return trip from Panama, adding that “the problem of violence terrifies me”.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido have been locked in a power struggle since Guaido proclaimed himself “acting president” Wednesday amid fierce protests over economic woes.
The standoff has split the international community between nations that recognize Guaido as president, including the United States and a dozen countries in the region, and those that still recognize Maduro, including Russia and China.
Before flying out of Panama, Francis called for a “just and peaceful solution” to the crisis and said he was praying for an outcome “respecting human rights”.
Francis has been at pains not to take sides on the issue, even though the Church in Venezuela has been highly critical of Maduro’s socialist regime amid the country’s economic collapse.