UK Politics

Jeremy Corbyn condemns 'all Venezuela violence'

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn said he is 'sad' about loss of life in Venezuela

Jeremy Corbyn has said he is "very sad" at lives lost in Venezuela and condemned violence done "by any side".

The Labour leader called for a dialogue in the country, where more than 120 people have died during months of anti-government protests.

He has been under pressure to condemn President Nicolas Maduro, after voicing support for him in the past.

Mr Maduro has been accused of behaving like the "dictator of an evil regime" by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

In the latest developments, Mr Maduro said a search was under way in Venezuela for 10 men who escaped with weapons after an attack on a military base.

Mr Corbyn has previously supported the Venezuelan government under both socialist president Hugo Chavez and his successor Mr Maduro.

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Media caption"Violence has not been done by both sides": Juan Andrés Mejía of opposition party Popular Will

As a backbencher he attended a 2013 vigil following the death of Mr Chavez, hailing him as an "inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neo-liberal economics in Europe". He also shared a platform with Mr Maduro in 2006.

Speaking in Crawley, West Sussex, where he was attending a meeting of Labour Party members, Mr Corbyn said: "I'm very sad at the lives that have been lost in Venezuela. The people who have died, either those on the streets or security forces that have been attacked by people on the street - all of those lives are terrible for the loss of them.

"There has to be a dialogue and a process that respects the independence of the judiciary and respects the human rights of all."

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Media captionThe week's most powerful photos from Venezuela

Asked whether he condemned Mr Maduro's actions, Mr Corbyn said: "What I condemn is the violence that's been done by any side, by all sides, in all this.

"Violence is not going to solve the issue. The issues in Venezuela are partly structural because not enough has been done to diversify the economy away from oil - that has to be a priority for the future."

'Abundantly clear'

He added that "effective and serious attempts at reducing poverty in Venezuela" should be recognised.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight, Juan Andrés Mejía, founding member and national director of one of the main Venezuelan opposition parties, Popular Will, said: "What I would say to to Jeremy Corbyn is that he really has to know what's going on in our country to be able to make a statement.

"Violence has not been done by both sides. Violence has been promoted by the government."

Labour MP John Spellar, a member of a new Parliamentary group on Venezuela who has been a critic of Mr Corbyn, said: "We should be clearly on the side of Venezuelan freedom and should be calling for respect for the clear mandate of the freely elected national assembly and the freeing of all political prisoners.

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Media captionYour video guide to the crisis gripping Venezuela

"That should be the position of the Labour Party."

Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott told the BBC Mr Corbyn did not "run away" from opinions he had previously expressed about Venezuela, adding that it was important to "reassess when there are new circumstances".

Rival parties criticised Mr Corbyn's response to questions about the country.

Conservative MP Henry Smith attacked his "failure to condemn Venezuela's strangulation of democracy and descent into chaotic poverty" while Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable added: "The leadership of the Labour Party must make it abundantly clear that they have ended their infatuation with the Venezuelan regime."

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