Reuters International

Pope Francis blesses at the end of special audience for Catholic Action members in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

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ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis called on Sunday for the respect of human rights and an end to violence in Venezuela, where nearly 30 people were killed in unrest this month.

Francis, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his weekly address, decried a "grave humanitarian, social , political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population".

Venezuela's opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro's government.

"I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution ...," he said.

Supporters say Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed head of the hardline opposition Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners whose arrests symbolise Maduro's lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down.

Francis told reporters on the plane returning from Cairo on Saturday that "very clear conditions" were necessary for the talks to resume.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Ros Russell)

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