UN chief calls for urgent national dialogue in Venezuela

Anti-government demonstrators attack the administration headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice as part of protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on June 12, 2017.
Anti-government demonstrators attack the administration headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice as part of protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on June 12, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday (July 14) called for a national dialogue in Venezuela to end the crisis there just days before a symbolic, opposition-led vote on the government's plan to rewrite the constitution.

"Our concern regarding Venezuela is more present than ever," Guterres said in a statement.

"A national dialogue is urgently needed in Venezuela between the government and the opposition."

The dialogue would focus on ending violence and ensuring agreement on the way forward regarding the constitution, he added.

The appeal came ahead of a symbolic vote on Sunday (July 16), organised by the opposition-led National Assembly, on President Nicolas Maduro's bid to hold an election July 30 for a new assembly tasked with drafting a constitution.

At least 90 people have died in more than three months of protests against Maduro. His opponents accuse him of authoritarianism as the country faces crippling shortages of food, medicine and other essentials.

"The way out is through an agreement, elections and respect for fundamental rights and constitutional powers," said Guterres.

"The way out must be found by Venezuelans alone, and the international community must support peaceful outcomes based on political dialogue.

"Only a political solution can restore hope to Venezuela," he added.

UN HAD KEPT ITS DISTANCE

The United Nations has kept its distance from the Venezuela crisis to allow regional players the space to try to mediate an end to the crisis.

The United States raised concerns about Venezuela at the UN Security Council in May, but there have been no subsequent requests for the top UN body to become involved.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley said last month, however, that the "international community must act" after a US-backed proposal for mediation failed to win support at the Organisation of American States (OAS).