UN's Ban Ki-moon urges Venezuela to hear protesters' demands

Caracas protest, 2 March 14 Many protesters blame the left-wing policies of the past 15 years for the current crisis

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the Venezuelan authorities to "listen carefully to the aspirations" of protesters and engage in dialogue with the opposition.

His comments came before a meeting in Geneva with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.

Mr Ban said protesters "must resort to peaceful means in delivering and conveying their messages".

Eighteen people have died in weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

Mr Jaua, who is in Geneva for a meeting of the UN's Human Rights Council, said Venezuela was the victim of a "psychological war" perpetrated by the media.

"The propaganda carried out by some national and international media corporations conveys the wrong idea that there is widespread chaos in our country and indiscriminate repression against the people," he said.

It was aimed, he said, at portraying Venezuela as a country that violates human rights to "justify foreign intervention".

Ban Ki-moon in Geneva Ban Ki-moon has held talks with Foreign Minister Elias Jaua

After the meeting with Mr Jaua, the UN issued a statement saying that Mr Ban had "reiterated his hope to see reduced tensions and the necessary conditions to engage in meaningful dialogue".

The protests began in the beginning of February in the western states of Tachira and Merida, when local students took to the streets to demand more security after an alleged rape of a local woman.

Many students were arrested. On 12 February, the opposition called for marches in Caracas and other cities to demand the release of all the protesters detained.

Three people were shot dead at the end of marches in Caracas, and police have since arrested five suspects.

The deaths have led to daily protests from the opposition, and clashes have become an almost daily occurrence.

Elias Jaua, 17 Feb 14 Elias Jaua served as Venezuela's vice-president during the government of Hugo Chavez

Hundreds of people have been arrested, including high-profile opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez.

The opposition blames the government for the violence, but also for failed left-wing policies which, in its view, have led to high inflation, rampant crime and the shortage of many staples in shops.

Government supporters have also taken to the streets in large numbers over the last weeks in rival marches.

President Nicolas Maduro says that right-wing groups backed up by the United States have encouraged the violence as part of a coup plot.

Protests in Caracas, 2 March 2014 The latest protests in opposition strongholds in eastern Caracas descended into violence

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was working with Colombia and other countries to form a mediation strategy for Venezuela's political crisis.

Mr Kerry said it would be "very difficult" for the two sides to come to an agreement without assistance.

Political divisions have deepened in Venezuela after the election of Mr Maduro last April. He succeeded Mr Chavez, who died of cancer after 14 years in office.

Henrique Capriles, who lost the vote by a narrow margin, accused the government of electoral fraud.

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