Maduro said he would ask the Pope to persuade opponents to stop 'training children' to take part in anti-government protests

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro is to ask Pope Francis to intervene in his country’s political crisis, as anti-government protests become increasingly violent.

Speaking on Sunday, Maduro said he would ask the Pope to persuade opponents to stop “training children” to take part in the protests.

Teenagers in facemasks are an increasingly common sight at demonstrations against far-left government in the capital, Caracas. At least 67 people killed in the protests since April have been under 18.

“I am going to ask Pope Francis to help us so the opposition end the violence, but more than anything to stop looking for children to involve in violent acts,” Maduro said in a TV broadcast.

Thousands of mostly peaceful protests have taken to the streets in recent weeks, angry at delayed elections and worsening food shortages. Small groups have thrown rocks and petrol bombs at police, being met with tear gas and water cannon.

Church-mediated talks broke down in acrimony last year, with relations between bishops and the government becoming increasingly strained.

The country’s bishops’ conference delivered a letter to Pope Francis last week calling the government a dictatorship.