Venezuela’s bishops have delivered a letter to Pope Francis calling their government a dictatorship and including a list of those killed in a crackdown on protesters.

The meeting of the Pope and six bishops representing the country’s episcopate came at the bishops’ request.

Their letter said the political crisis was not a standoff between right and left but a “fight between a government which has turned into a dictatorship, an inward-looking [regime] which serves only its own interests, and an entire people which is crying out for freedom and desperately seeking, at the risk of its youngest lives, bread, medicine, security, work and fair elections”.

They said a plan to convene an unelected assembly next month was “dangerous”.

In response Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro said he would ask Pope Francis to persuade opponents to stop “training children” to take part in the protests.

Teenagers in face masks are an increasingly common sight at demonstrations against the far-Left government in the capital, Caracas. At least 67 people killed in the protests since April have been under 18.

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