British opposition leader Corbyn declines to condemn Venezuela's Maduro

Slideshow ( 4 images )

LONDON (Reuters) - The British Labour Party’s socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday there needed to be dialogue to stop growing violence in Venezuela but stopped short of condemning its President Nicolas Maduro who he has vociferously supported in the past.

Corbyn has been under pressure at home to speak out about the situation in the South American nation amid international criticism of Maduro who once described the British politician as “a great friend of Venezuela”.

Some 120 people have been killed during four months of sustained anti-government protests and Maduro has faced global pressure to dismantle a newly created pro-government constituent assembly which has been condemned as a power grab.

“There has to be a dialogue and a process that respects the independence of the judiciary and respects the human rights of all,” Corbyn, who has long expressed admiration for Venezuela’s socialist regime, told broadcasters.

Asked if he condemned Maduro’s actions, he said: “What I condemn is the violence that’s been done by any side and all sides in this. Violence is not going to solve the issues.”

In 2013 Corbyn called Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez an “inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe” during a rally to mourn Chavez’s death.

Maduro in turn described Corbyn in 2014 as “a great friend of Venezuela” when the two spoke live on Venezuelan television following the death of prominent British socialist Tony Benn.

When questioned about whether he regretted offering support to Maduro when he came to power, Corbyn said: “I gave the support of many people around the world for the principle of government that was dedicated towards reducing inequality and improving the life chances of the poorest people.”

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman said on Monday that urgent action must be taken in Venezuela to stop the situation getting worse and called on the government to respect democracy and human rights.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Alistair Smout and Richard Balmforth