Uruguay government torn over Venezuela 'dictatorship' row

Montevideo (AFP) –

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Uruguay's ruling Frente Amplio coalition has suffered a major schism just three months from presidential elections in a row over iconic former president Jose Mujica branding traditional ally Venezuela a "dictatorship."

Speaking at a meeting of his MPP party on Saturday, Mujica said Venezuela "is a dictatorship, yes, in its current situation there's nothing but dictatorship," according to an audio clip on Radio Universal's website.

His position was backed by Daniel Martinez, the front-runner for the October 27 presidential election, in which the ruling coalition of President Tabare Vazquez is aiming for a fourth successive term.

Vazquez, who was president from 2005-10 and has been again since 2015, is ineligible to run due to constitutional term limits.

Martinez, who leads polls with 30 percent, referred on Sunday to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet as "conclusive with respect to Venezuela, it's a dictatorship."

That brought a rebuke on Tuesday from Vazquez's government.

"It is not the place of states to comment on the nature of another state's governing regime," deputy Foreign Minister Ariel Bergamino said in a radio interview.

Divisions are rife among the left-wing coalition made up of socialists, communists, social democrats and former MLN Tupumaro guerrillas, like Mujica, who was known as the "world's poorest president" during his 2010-15 term due to his austere lifestyle.

The first accusation of despotism against Venezuela came on Friday from Finance Minister Danilo Astori, a founder member of the Frente Amplio, which translates as "Broad Front."

The row is a blow to Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro's regime as Uruguay has been one of its few regional allies since the Frente Amplio came to power.