Clashes erupt at ‘mother of all protests’ in Venezuela
Clashes erupt at ‘mother of all protests’ in Venezuela
Violence erupted when thousands of opposition protesters tried to march on central Caracas, a pro-government bastion where red-clad Maduro supporters were massing for a counter-demonstration.
The marchers were forced back by lines of soldiers and police deployed to contain what the opposition has vowed will be the “mother of all protests.”
On the capital’s northwest side, a 19-year-old man was shot in the head and badly wounded by motorcycle-riding gunmen who also threw tear gas canisters into a crowd of protesters, witnesses told AFP.
The opposition has repeatedly accused the government of sending groups of armed thugs to attack protesters. The security forces do nothing to stop them and themselves repress peaceful protesters, opponents say.
This is the largest day of demonstrations in more than two weeks of violent protests that have left five people dead and more than 200 arrested since moves by Maduro to tighten his grip on power escalated the country’s political and economic crisis.
“We have to end this dictatorship. We’re fed up. We want elections to get Maduro out, because he’s destroyed this country,” said protester Ingrid Chacon, a 54-year-old secretary.
Maduro has urged his supporters, the military, and civilian militias to defend the socialist “revolution” launched by his predecessor Hugo Chavez in 1999.
Venezuela’s crisis escalated on March 30, when the Supreme Court tried to take over the powers of the National Assembly.
The assembly has been the only lever of power Maduro’s camp does not control since the opposition won a landslide in legislative elections in 2015.
Pressure on Maduro has increased as falling prices for Venezuela’s crucial oil exports have aggravated an economic crisis, creating severe shortages of food and medicine in the state-led economy.
The center-right opposition has called for the military — a pillar of Maduro’s power — to abandon him.
“It is the moment for the armed forces to demonstrate that they are with the constitution and with the people,” legislative speaker Julio Borges said Tuesday.
But the defense minister, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, has pledged the army’s “unconditional loyalty,” while Maduro blasted Borges for inciting a “coup.”
The president has sought to rally his troops this week, sending the army into the streets and ordering pro-government militias to be expanded to half a million members, “each with a rifle.”
“The hour of combat has arrived,” Maduro said.
On Tuesday night he activated a military, police and civilian operation called the “Zamora Plan” aimed at combatting a supposed coup attempt — which the president says is being orchestrated by Venezuela’s opposition and the United States.
In Latin America, where other governments are increasingly alarmed by Venezuela’s instability, 11 countries including Brazil, Mexico and Chile issued a statement Monday condemning the deaths of protesters and urging the security forces to show restraint.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner echoed that call, urging the security forces to “protect, not prevent, peaceful demonstrations.”
Maduro, speaking at a meeting with high-ranking political and military officials Tuesday, denounced that as a “green light (for) a coup.”
The often fragmented opposition has been galvanized since the Supreme Court’s bid to seize legislative powers.
The court partly backtracked after an international outcry, but tension only increased when authorities slapped a political ban on opposition leader Henrique Capriles on April 7.
According to a recent poll, seven in 10 Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro, whose term does not end until 2019.
Drought adds to Afghanistan woes
- Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought
- More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces
KABUL: Rain and snow are as important as peace for Afghanistan. But the landlocked and mountainous country this year had its lowest rainfall for years, causing widespread drought and leaving 2 million people facing food shortages.
Livestock in many areas have died, and some farmers have been forced to send their herds for pasture to neighboring Turkmenistan.
Thousands of people have left their homes already due to water shortages, with fears that the situation will worsen in autumn, Afghan and UN officials say.
Twenty of the country’s 34 provinces, including the northern region — Afghanistan’s food basket — have been badly affected, they said.
The aid-reliant Afghan government has begun delivering aid to affected areas. But assistance will be needed for months to come. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said rapid action was needed to enable delivery of food and water. More than $115 million was required for a six-month response in the 20 provinces, it said.
“Drought is gripping large parts of Afghanistan, with more than 2 million people expected to become severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance for survival,” OCHA said.
“A quick, comprehensive response will enable the delivery of food and water to the rural villages and help to avoid the migration of families to cities where they risk losing all of their few possessions, and where they lack shelter and access to health facilities and schools for their children,” it said.
Water points and fountains across the country have dried up, and the lack of rain and snow melt has made rivers run low or dry up, the organization said.
About 1.5 million goats and sheep in northeast regions are struggling to find food and more than half of the 1,000 villages in the province are suffering from lack of water.
Intensified conflict in many parts of the country is worsening the effects of the drought, limiting communities’ access to markets.
In Helmand, village elders reportedly need to obtain special approval from the armed groups to access markets in areas under government control.
In Uruzgan province, people often cannot access the main market in Tirinkot due to fighting and insecurity on the roads to the provincial capital. Following a temporary closure of the road to neighboring Kandahar province in April due to fighting, wheat prices went up by 50 percent in the city, and the price for fresh produce quadrupled within days.
Engineer Mohammed Sediq Hassani, chief of planning in the government’s Disaster Management Department, said the drought has directly and indirectly taken the lives of dozens of people.
“The impact of drought in terms of taking lives is intangible and slow. An indirect impact can be the recent floods, which claimed the lives of 73 people. Floods happen when there is a drought because of the change of the climate,” he told Arab News.