DAVOS: UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday appealed for dialogue to stop Venezuela's political crisis spiralling out of control, after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president.
"What we hope is that dialogue can be possible, and that we avoid an escalation that would lead to the kind of conflict that would be a disaster for the people of Venezuela and for the region," he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The United States, Brazil and other countries on Wednesday endorsed Guaido's declaration in repudiation of President Nicolas Maduro, as more protests rocked the economically strapped country.
"Sovereign governments have the possibility to decide whatever they want," the UN secretary-general said on a Facebook Live broadcast from Davos.
"What we are worried (about) with the situation in Venezuela is the suffering of the people of Venezuela," he said.
In a statement, Guterres's office said he was also "concerned over reports of casualties in the context of demonstrations and unrest in Venezuela."
Guaido's announcement came amid violence that has killed at least 13 people this week, according to a toll by the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.
The secretary-general, it said, "calls for a transparent and independent investigation of these incidents".
Maduro has presided over a deepening economic crisis that has left millions in poverty as the oil-rich country faces shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
Some 2.3 million people have fled the country since 2015, according to the United Nations, while the International Monetary Fund says inflation will hit a staggering 10 million per cent this year.
The UN's World Food Programme has been shut out from Venezuela by Maduro's government but is working in border areas to help people fleeing the country.
The situation is "heartbreaking", WFP chief David Beasley told AFP in Davos on Thursday.
He said he hoped for the UN agency to gain access to the country to be able to provide desperately needed assistance, "regardless of what government is in place".
"We know that people are starving in Venezuela. We know that it is not isolated incidents of hunger in Venezuela. It is widespread," he said.