The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has turned up the heat on the country’s bishops, calling for them to be investigated for “hate crimes”.

Although MR Maduro did not mention any names in his speech to the Constitutional Assembly, Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional interpreted the remarks as aimed at two bishops in particular: Archbishop Antonio Lopez Castillo of Barquisimeto and Bishop Víctor Basabe of San Felipe.

Both recently preached homilies against corruption, which Mr Maduro took as an implied rebuke to his administration.

Venezuela is struggling through a combined political and economic crisis. Mr Maduro has banned the main opposition parties from taking part in the elections later this year. It is only the latest of the president’s attempts to cement his power by means which opponents say are dictatorial.

Falling oil revenues and economic disorder have led to a disastrous fall in living standards. The Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict has claimed that in the first 11 days of January there were violent deaths throughout Venezuela amid 107 episodes of looting.

The Venezuelan bishops’ conference has repeatedly opposed Mr Maduro’s actions as unconstitutional and drawn attention to the lack of food and medicine.

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