CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Pope Francis should pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to focus on promoting democracy and peaceful coexistence to ease tensions with the socialist government's opponents, the Catholic Church's top representative in the country said Sunday.

Cardinal Jorge Urosa said he expected the pontiff to try to persuade Maduro during their meeting Monday at the Vatican to cease his verbal attacks on political rivals and critics

The cardinal said he hopes to see "increased serenity and impartiality in the president's language" following the meeting.

"Hopefully when (Maduro) returns he will use much more calm and democratic language, and also recognizes the existence and importance of those who belong to the opposition," Urosa said during an interview telecast by the privately owned Globovision channel.

It will be the president's first meeting with the new pope, who has called on Venezuela's political rivals to work toward reconciliation after the April 14 presidential election that Maduro won by a thin margin.

The relationship between Maduro and leaders of Venezuela's Catholic Church has not been friendly. But he appears to be attempting to improve ties with the church, which wields enormous influence among Venezuelans of all political leanings.

His initiative represents a break from the rocky relations under late president Hugo Chavez, who once suggested that Christ would whip some church leaders for lying after Urosa warned that Venezuela's democratic freedoms were being eroded.

Maduro frequently insults his opponents, accusing them of attempting to undermine his government.

Adversaries say Maduro uses authoritarian tactics in an effort to weaken the opposition following his razor-thin electoral victory over Henrique Capriles. Opponents say the government is using prosecutors and judges as pawns to bring politically motivated criminal charges against government foes.

Capriles claims the election was fraudulent.

Last week, Capriles sent a letter to the pope accusing the government of persecuting its opponents and striving to discredit its critics. He also told the pontiff that Maduro is cracking down on independent media to try to silence dissent.

Capriles also thanked Francis for expressing his concern regarding Venezuela's political crisis and agreeing to meet with Edgar Zambrano, an opposition lawmaker who has been pressuring the government to release government adversaries who claim they have been unjustly imprisoned for political reasons.


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