UPDATE 4-Pope, U.N. urge calm and dialogue amid Venezuela unrest
By Daniel Wallis and Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS Feb 26 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis called on Wednesday for an end to violence in Venezuela that has killed at least 13 people and urged politicians to take the lead in calming the nation's worst unrest in a decade.
Students and other opponents of President Nicolas Maduro are demanding that he quit over grievances including high inflation, shocking levels of violent crime, shortages of basic food, and what they say is his repression of political rivals.
The protests are the biggest challenge to Maduro's 10-month-old administration, although there is no sign they could topple him or affect the OPEC nation's oil shipments.
Among the latest world figures to speak out about the unrest, Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square he was "particularly concerned" by recent events.
"I sincerely hope the violence and hostility ends as soon as possible, and that the Venezuelan people, beginning with the responsible politicians and institutions, act to foster national reconciliation through mutual forgiveness and sincere dialogue," Francis said during his weekly address.
U.N. head Ban called for "concrete gestures by all parties to reduce polarization" and engage in dialogue. "He appeals to Venezuelans, no matter their political perspective, to voice differences and grievances peacefully and in accordance with the law, and to seek common ground," a statement added.
Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver and union boss, hosted church and business leaders and some opposition politicians for a "national peace conference" on Wednesday night. Continuación...