CARACAS Fresh from leading Venezuela's Under-20 soccer squad to a World Cup final, coach Rafael Dudamel on Thursday urged President Nicolas Maduro to help stop political violence that has killed at least 67 people in the last two months.
Dudamel was speaking after his team, nicknamed the "Vinotinto" (Red Wine) for their burgundy colors, beat Uruguay 4-3 on penalties in the semi-final of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
"Mr. President, let's stop the weapons now. The only thing those kids going onto the streets want is a better Venezuela ... the same as the Vinotinto kids," Dudamel said after the match, referring to young protesters fighting security forces.
"Today, a 17-year-old has given us joy, and yesterday a 17-year-old died," he added of the latest fatality.
The government said teenager Neomar Lander died when a homemade mortar exploded in his hands while hundreds of youths faced off with National Guard troops in Caracas on Wednesday.
Opposition lawmakers, however, said he was killed by a tear gas cannister fired straight at him.
At least 67 people have died, with victims including government and opposition supporters, bystanders and members of the security forces, since demonstrations began against the socialist government at the start of April.
Each side blames the other for the violence.
But there was a brief national unity on Thursday as fans celebrated arguably the greatest moment in Venezuela's soccer history. The Under-20 squad meets England, 3-1 victors over Italy in the other semi-final, in Sunday's final.
Dudamel's comments were only carried locally on one cable sports TV channel in the early morning, but they were also widely circulated by social media during the day.
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Grant McCool)