NEW YORK, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Swift action is needed in Venezuela to prevent political tensions from spiraling out of control, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
A statement from the secretary-general's office said he was "saddened" by reports of deaths associated with political violence in Venezuela.
"[Ban] urges that all efforts be swiftly made to lower the tensions and prevent further violence," the statement issued Wednesday said.
Demonstrations erupted Feb. 4 in Venezuela in response to soaring crime and a general deterioration of the nation's economy. An annual inflation rate of more than 50 percent in the South American nation is one of the highest in the world.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's call for a national dialogue was welcomed by the secretary-general. Maduro's weekend decision to hold the conference was followed Monday by efforts by opposition forces to block the entrance to Caracas, the nation's capital.
"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," Ban's message read.
In a tit-for-tat move, the United States and Venezuela declared each other's diplomatic representatives personae non gratae.
Maduro has accused his opponents of plotting a coup with U.S. help.