Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

Workers of the health sector and opposition supporters take part in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
By Anggy Polanco | SAN CRISTOBAL, VENEZUELA

Venezuela said it was sending 2,000 soldiers on Wednesday to a border state that is a hotspot of anti-government radicalism after a night of looting in which one 15-year-old died as political unrest rumbled on in the volatile nation.

Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal, capital of Tachira state on the Colombian border, were closed and guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, though looting continued in some poorer sectors, residents said.

People made off with items including coffee, diapers, and cooking oil in a country where a brutal economic crisis has made basic foods and medicine disappear from shelves.

Barricades of trash, car tires, and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city that was also a hotspot during the 2014 wave of unrest against leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come onto the streets across Venezuela since early April to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.

Maduro’s government accuses them of seeking a violent coup and says many of the protesters are no more than “terrorists.” State oil company PDVSA also blamed roadblocks for pockets of gasoline shortages in the country on Wednesday.

In Tachira, teenager Jose Francisco Guerrero was shot dead during the spate of looting, his relatives said.

“My mom sent my brother yesterday to buy flour for dinner and a little while later, we received a call saying he’d been injured by a bullet,” said his sister Maria Contreras, waiting for his body to be brought to a San Cristobal morgue.

The state prosecutor’s office confirmed his death, which would push the death toll in unrest to at least 43, equal to that of the 2014 protests.

’21ST CENTURY JEWS’

With international pressure against Venezuela’s government mounting, the United Nations Security Council turned its attention to the country’s crisis for the first time on Wednesday.

“The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation … we’re not looking for Security Council action,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters after the session.

“The international community needs to say, ‘Respect the human rights of your people or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go’ … We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma.”

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy Rafael Ramirez in turn accused the United States of seeking to topple the Maduro government.

“The U.S. meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela,” he said, showing photos of vandalism and violence he said was caused by opposition supporters.

Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country’s economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting state officials and their family members.

Maduro on Tuesday likened that harassment to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis.

“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said during the cabinet meeting. “We don’t carry the yellow star of David … we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”

The German Nazis and their collaborators persecuted and killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s.

Social media has for weeks buzzed with videos of Venezuelan emigrees in countries from Australia to the United States shouting insults at public officials and in some cases family members in public places.

Maduro’s critics say it is outrageous for officials to spend money on foreign travel when people are struggling to obtain food and children are dying for lack of basic medicines.

But some opposition sympathizers say such mob-like harassment is the wrong way to confront the government.

Graphic on Venezuela’s economic woes: here

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco, additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea, Brian Ellsworth, Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations in New York; Writing by Girish Gupta and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay)

Rebels Break out Spiritual Leader from Congo Prison

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

Rebels Break out Spiritual Leader from Congo Prison

Nsemi

Rebels from an outlawed group in the Democratic Republic of Congo staged a prison break in the country’s capital, freeing their spiritual leader and 50 other inmates, the government announced.

“Followers of the Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK) attacked Makala prison at dawn and broke out around 50 prisoners, including their guru, Ne Muanda Nsemi,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said, indicating that police had given chase.

BDK has called for an insurrection against Kinshasa. Nsemi – a self-styled prophet – was arrested along with his three wives and son in early March following a violent two-week siege of his home in Kinshasa, DR Congo’s capital.

According to a local resident, the attack began just before dawn when there were “prolonged exchanges of fire”. Other witnesses said they had heard gunfire near Makala prison at around 4 a.m. (0300 GMT) and saw prisoners wearing blue shirts with yellow collars in the streets.

One of the prisoners on the run told AFP he had managed to escape during violent clashes between the attackers and the prison guards.

The government has accused BDK followers of a string of violent attacks in western DR Congo since the start of the year.

By around 8:30 am (0730 GMT), a column of thick black smoke could be seen rising over Makala prison, with dozens of police and soldiers blocking off all access to the facility.

The United Nations warned its staff to avoid unessential movement around Kinshasa, saying the situation was calm but unpredictable.

Soldiers stopped young men for questioning near Nsemi’s house in the city’s district of Ngaliema and arresting some of them, a Reuters witness said.

Clashes between his followers and security forces have compounded wider tensions across Congo since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired in December, raising fears of renewed civil conflict.

Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe told a local radio station that, aside from Nsemi, the prison’s most prominent prisoners, including political opposition leaders and soldiers convicted in the assassination of former President Laurent Kabila, had not escaped.

The dramatic assault took place as DR Congo marks 20 years since the fall of Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the country — which was then known as Zaire — with an iron fist for more than three decades.

Mobutu was ousted by rebel chief Laurent-Desire Kabila, father of the embattled current President Joseph Kabila.

BDK stands for “Kingdom of the Kongo” in the Kikongo language, and its members want to restore an African monarchy that once included what is today Kongo Central (formerly Bas-Congo) along with parts of Angola, the Republic of Congo and Gabon.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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U.S. Decries Violence During Turkish President’s Washington Visit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. decries violence during Turkish president’s Washington visit

 (My question is, why were these protesters so close to a visiting President in the first place?)
By Yeganeh Torbati | WASHINGTON

The United States on Wednesday said it was voicing its “strongest possible” concern to Turkey over violence that erupted between protesters and Turkish security personnel during Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

Police said the fighting that flared outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Tuesday injured 11 people, including a Washington police officer, and led to two arrests.

“We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

A video posted online showed men in dark suits chasing protesters and punching and kicking them as baton-wielding police tried to intervene. Two men were bloodied from head wounds as bystanders tried to assist dazed protesters.

Erdogan was in the U.S. capital on Tuesday to meet with President Donald Trump.[nL2N1II15R] A spokesman for the Turkish embassy could not be reached for immediate comment.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Ian Simpson; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown)

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

The U.S. Capitol Building is seen May 17, 2017 in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
By Lisa Lambert | WASHINGTON

The U.S. Senate could soon approve a major overhaul of the federal bureaucracy and make lasting changes to regulation of the environment, education, banks and other areas.

On Wednesday a Senate committee sent a bill on to the full chamber that, supporters say, will make regulators more accountable to lawmakers and provide greater understanding of how rules affect the economy.

The next step, debating the bill on the Senate floor, has not been scheduled. The House of Representatives approved companion legislation in January.

Critics say the bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, creates so many new requirements that it would paralyze regulators working to establish even the most basic rules and standards. They also say it makes cutting industry and banks’ costs a higher priority than protecting public health and safety.

For decades the political parties have been starkly divided over regulation and Republicans are currently winning their battle to lessen the red tape they say ties up business and hurts the economy. Republicans also say former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, pushed regulators to go beyond their duties of executing laws passed by Congress to create policy on their own.

Democrats say regulation, which touches nearly every part of American life, shields average people from health, financial and other threats and is needed to accomplish the goals set in laws.

The Senate bill would require more cost-benefit and other analyses, give courts and the White House greater checks on rulemaking, classify regulations by potential economic impact, and lengthen rulemaking processes.

One progressive group, Public Citizen, estimates it would add 53 steps to major rulemaking, possibly doubling the average amount of time it takes to finalize a regulation – currently four years.

The bill has pitted the powerful business group, the Chamber of Commerce, against progressive ones such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp broke ranks with her fellow Democrats to write the accountability act, indicating some members of the party may support the bill when the closely-divided Senate votes.

Also, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, is working on alternative legislation that her party could find more palatable and could keep some of the bill’s measures.

Since Republicans swept Congress and the White House in November’s elections they have moved swiftly against regulation.

Using the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers killed 14 Obama-era regulations in the span of three months.

Trump’s efforts have yielded mixed results. His order to cut two existing regulations for every new one has stalled during a legal challenge. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency was jammed with thousands of pleas to maintain regulations when it asked for public comment on Trump’s order to look into repealing or rewriting current rules. The comment period closed Monday.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Nick Zieminski)