(This December 6 story has been corrected to fix spelling of Tintori in paragraph 5)
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, including the wife and mother of a jailed dissident leader, have begun a sit-in outside the Vatican demanding that the government free political prisoners.
Leopoldo Lopez has become a cause celebre among opposition supporters, who accuse Maduro of trampling human rights. The U.S. government, the United Nations and international rights groups have all called for Lopez’s release.
His wife, mother and a few Venezuelan and Italian supporters began their protest in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday by putting chains around themselves.
They later moved metres away to a covered area across the street from the square where homeless people often sleep, and say they will stay there indefinitely.
“We are here for the 108 political prisoners who are being held unjustly in Venezuela. They must be released,” Lilian Tintori, Lopez’s wife, told Reuters Television.
On Tuesday night, the group was huddled on blankets and eating pizza and pasta brought by supporters.
“We ask the Vatican, as an international representative, to demand that the government of Nicolas Maduro respect international agreements and free my husband,” she said.
Vatican representatives in Venezuela have been involved in negotiations between the opposition and the government but the talks have stalled.
Lopez was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in anti-government protests two years ago. He was at the forefront of demonstrations demanding Maduro’s resignation. Forty-three people died during the protests.
Lopez had publicly called for peaceful resistance to the Maduro government and was behind bars during most of the unrest.
Critics say his trial was a mockery and Lopez, who Maduro refers to as a dangerous criminal, was imprisoned to stifle dissent.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Janet Lawrence