January 24, 2019 / 6:40 PM / a year ago

Vatican calls for end to suffering in Venezuela but takes no sides

FILE PHOTO: Security forces look on while clashing with opposition supporters participating in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the end of the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in Tachira, Venezuela January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez/File Photo

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis is following the situation in Venezuela closely and the Holy See supports all efforts to spare its people from further suffering, the Vatican said on Thursday.

But in its first statement on the crisis, the Vatican took no sides between Nicolas Maduro, who was elected president in a vote last year widely regarded as fraudulent, and congress leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president on Wednesday.

The Argentine pontiff, Latin America’s first pope, is currently on a visit to Panama.

“In Panama, the Holy Father has been informed of the news coming from Venezuela and is closely following the situation as it evolves,” spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.

“He is praying for the victims and for all the people of Venezuela. The Holy See supports all efforts that help save the population from further suffering,” he said.

In 2016, the Vatican convened mediation talks between Maduro and the opposition, with little success.

The United States and many Latin American countries, including Argentina, have recognized Guaido as president.

Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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