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Peru's Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin (C) speaks next to Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (L), and Colombia's Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin (R) during a news conference after a meeting to discuss elections in Venezuela, in Lima, Peru February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

(reuters_tickers)

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) - The "Lima Group" of Latin American nations plus Canada on Tuesday criticised the Venezuelan government's decision to hold a presidential election on April 22 without reaching an agreement with an opposition coalition.

Venezuela's socialist government set the date on Feb. 7, setting the stage for the likely re-election of President Nicolas Maduro despite his widespread unpopularity and a crushing economic crisis.

In a statement, the 14 countries said the election would not be free and fair as long as Venezuela has political prisoners, the opposition was not fully participating and Venezuelans abroad were not allowed to vote. They urged the government to present a new electoral calendar.

The statement stopped short of saying the group would not recognise the results of the election, though several members, including Venezuela's neighbour Colombia, have already done so.

Peru's Foreign Minister Cayetana Aljovin also told a news conference that Maduro would not be welcome at the Summit of the Americas to be held in Lima on April 13 and 14.

Venezuela's foreign minister had recently tweeted that Maduro planned to attend. The Lima Group statement said the group respected Peru's decision.

The Lima Group also pledged to coordinate efforts to confront an exodus of Venezuelans that is putting pressure on the country's neighbours.

Colombia and Brazil tightened border controls last week as both nations grappled with a mounting influx of hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)

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Reuters