The leader of Venezuela's Roman Catholic Church called Tuesday for an immediate halt to the persecution of government employees suspected of sympathizing with the opposition.
Cardinal Jorge Urosa's appeal in a radio interview came amid opposition charges that government workers were being harassed and threatened with dismissal if they were found to have voted against President Nicolas Maduro.
Urosa said the constitution protects the political rights of all Venezuelans and "it's not possible for a public employee to be persecuted simply for holding a political view different from that of the ruling party.
"That has to be stopped at once, it must cease immediately," he said on Union Radio, a private radio network.
The cardinal, who heads Venezuela's conference of bishops, said dialogue was needed to resolve a political crisis over Venezuela's April 14 elections which ended in violent opposition protests over a narrow win declared for Maduro.
"But you can't think about a dialogue with the country while some people in some government agencies are persecuting Venezuelans who work there simply out of suspicion they voted for a different option from that of the government," he said.
Maduro on Monday said he wanted to conduct a national dialogue, including with Venezuelans who voted against him, but warned: "There will be no pact here of any kind with the bourgeoisie."
Pope Francis, an Argentine who is the first pontiff from Latin America, said Sunday he was watching events in Venezuela with "great concern" and called for a dialogue "based on the truth, mutual recognition ... and out of love for the nation."