Vatican calls on Nicolas Maduro’s government to suspend constitutional assembly

The Vatican has urged Venezuela’s president not to proceed with a controversial new assembly that his critics say would give him unprecedented power.

In a statement issued on the day Mr Maduro was set to install the new assembly – a vote for which last week was boycotted by the opposition parties and denounced as “rigged – the Vatican called on “all political actors, and in particular the government, to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the existing constitution”.

“The Holy See appeals firmly to all of society to avoid all forms of violence and invites, in particular, the security forces to refrain from excessive and disproportionate use of force,” it said.

The statement also it urged the government of Mr Maduro “to prevent or suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly which, instead of fostering reconciliation and peace, foment a climate of tension”.

Venezuela has been rocked by months of protests against the government of Mr Maduro, who was elected in 2013 following the death of Hugo Chavez, and there have been at least 125 deaths.

Many countries, among them the US, the UK, and Mexico, have denounced the move by Mr Maduro, claiming it is a move to seize additional power for his party at a time when his approval rating stands at just 20 per cent. The US has issued sanctions against Mr Maduro and 13 of his close advisors and threatened more.

On Friday, the 545-member assembly was formally opened. The assembly unanimously elected well-known Socialist Party leaders to its leadership, with former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez to serve as the president, and former Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz as First Vice President.

Mr Maduro and his supporters have dismissed criticism of the assembly as merely the latest in Washington’s attempts to interfere in Venezuela and other Latin American countries. Many experts believe the US has been seeking a change of government in Caracas since Mr Chavez was elected in 2002.

Last month, the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, suggested to participants of a security forum in Aspen, Colorado, that the agency was seeking a “transition” in Caracas and that it was working with regional allies, Colombia and Mexico, to make this happen.

Meanwhile, the people of Venezuela…

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