Venezuelan president cancels Rome meeting with Pope due to flu

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during his weekly broadcast "en contacto con Maduro" (In contact with Maduro) at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, in this June 2, 2015 handout picture provided by Miraflores Palace. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Saturday he had canceled a planned trip to Rome, during which he was due to meet Pope Francis, because he is sick with flu.

Maduro, a socialist, had been due to meet the Argentine Pope on Sunday. "Due to being hit by flu and otitis, doctors have forbidden me to get on a plane and make the journey," he said in a broadcast on state television, adding he was seeking to reschedule the meeting.

Otitis is an inflammation of the ear.

Opposition leaders staged anti-government vigils on Saturday to urge the Pope to mediate in favor of their jailed colleagues. These form part of larger protests that include partial hunger strikes by jailed opposition leaders.

Opposition heavyweight Leopoldo Lopez and former mayor Daniel Ceballos, both imprisoned early last year for their role in nationwide protests which left more than 40 dead on both sides of the political divide, launched their partial hunger strikes around two weeks ago.

Two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles wrote an open letter to the Pope earlier this week asking him to intervene in Venezuela, which is mired in a severe economic crisis.

Maduro was also due to address at the United Nations' Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Monday.

He did not specify whether he was also calling off a planned visit to Brussels to attend a meeting between the European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) scheduled for June 10 and 11.

(Reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Frances Kerry)