Venezuela faces calls for probe after opposition activist dies in custody

The coffin containing Alban’s body was taken to the legislature, where it was placed in the garden and surrounded by politicians and relatives. (Reuters)
Updated 10 October 2018
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Venezuela faces calls for probe after opposition activist dies in custody

  • My father died fighting for democracy and freedom in Venezuela: son Fernando Alban
  • Alban asked to go to the restroom and threw himself from a window: Attorney General

CARACAS: Venezuela faced international calls Tuesday for a “transparent investigation” into the death in custody of an opposition member who the government said threw himself from a 10th-floor window of the headquarters of the state intelligence services.
Fernando Alban, a 52-year-old Caracas city council member accused of taking part in a failed drone attack on President Nicolas Maduro, was in pretrial detention Monday at the time of his death, which the government presented as a suicide.
Attorney General Tarek Saab said on state television that Alban, who had been arrested on Friday, asked to go to the restroom and threw himself from a window.
The death sparked expressions of concern by the United Nations and the European Union, both of which called for a probe.
The US embassy in Caracas said the death was “suspicious.” In August, the United States condemned alleged arbitrary detentions and forced confessions by the Venezuelan government in its investigation of the drone incident.
The coffin containing Alban’s body was taken to the legislature, where — wrapped in a yellow, blue and red Venezuelan flag — it was placed in the garden and surrounded by politicians and relatives. The mourners included Alban’s elderly parents and sister.
“My father died fighting for democracy and freedom in Venezuela,” his son Fernando wrote on Twitter.
The legislature is the seat of the opposition-majority national assembly but its power has been usurped by a new lawmaking body — the all-powerful Constituent Assembly created by Maduro and composed of his supporters.
Outraged opposition lawmakers nevertheless agreed a resolution recognizing the government’s “responsibility” for Alban’s death, and calling on the United Nations and the Organization of American States to designate “independent” experts to investigate.
Alban’s remains were later transferred to a chapel at the Central University of Venezuela, where he graduated as a lawyer.
The Maduro government has “an obligation to ensure (Alban’s) safety, personal integrity and dignity,” a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office in Geneva, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters.
“We are concerned about news of his death... We do indeed call for a transparent investigation to clarify the circumstances of his death,” she added.
In a statement, the European Union also demanded “a thorough and independent investigation” to clarify the circumstances of Alban’s “tragic death.”
“The EU reiterates its call to the Venezuelan government to release all political prisoners,” added EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, wrote on Twitter that Alban’s death was “the direct responsibility of a torturing and murdering regime.”
Alban’s party, First Justice, blamed the government for the death.
“We hold Maduro and his regime of torture responsible,” it said in a statement.
Alban was among at least 15 people arrested and charged for alleged participation in the August 4 drone incident which Maduro has portrayed as an assassination attempt.
The Venezuelan president was seen reacting on live television to an off-camera explosion while he addressed a military parade in Caracas.
A second explosion was heard and then the assembled troops were seen breaking formation and scattering in panic.
Maduro said the blasts were from explosives-laden drones sent to assassinate him, though opposition figures accuse Maduro of fabricating the incident to step up repression in his country, which is suffering an economic crisis.
Maduro has blamed the drone attack on First Justice founder Julio Borges, who now lives in exile in Colombia.
“Murderers!” Borges said on Twitter. The “cruelty of the dictatorship ended the life of Alban.”
The attorney general promised a thorough investigation.
The visiting US chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, said on Twitter that the government had a “responsibility to ensure all understand how that could have happened.”
Alban had traveled to New York last week to visit his children and accompanied Borges to the United Nations. He was arrested on his return to Caracas.
Late Monday, dozens of people with candles held a vigil outside the headquarters of the intelligence service, known as the Sebin, to protest the death.
“This is not suicide, this is homicide,” protesters shouted at guards.
Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, also a First Justice member, said the Maduro government was responsible.
“Those of us who knew Fernando know that he could NEVER have acted against his life,” he said on Twitter.
The city councilman’s lawyer, Joel Garcia, told reporters it was too soon to confirm whether the case was a suicide.
The Catholic church, an outspoken critic of the government, has also questioned the official version of his death. The Caracas archdiocese said in a statement Alban had been “serene and calm” and planning social work projects for the poor on Sunday before his arrest.
Interior and Justice Minister General Nestor Reverol lamented the death of the politician who, he said, was “involved in destabilizing acts directed from abroad.”
Venezuela accuses its neighbor Colombia of shielding the authors of the alleged assassination attempt.


UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

Updated 24 June 2019
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UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

  • Jeremy Hunt: It was disrespectful for Boris Johnson to turn down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate
  • Hunt says candidates should explain their Brexit positions

LONDON: Jeremy Hunt, one of the two candidates vying to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, said on Monday that rival Boris Johnson was a coward for avoiding public head-to-head debates on what to do about Brexit.
“On the question of debates, he is being a coward,” Foreign Secretary Hunt said. “It is cowardice not to appear in head-to-head debates.”
Hunt, 52, said it was disrespectful for Johnson to have turned down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate on Sky television.
“People need to know what you’re going to do and you need to answer those questions,” Hunt said. “I promise Boris Johnson the fight of his life and he’s going to have that and he’s going to lose.”
Johnson, 55, is the favorite to win a vote of 160,000 Conservative Party members who will decide who will be the next prime minister. Betting markets give him a 79 percent implied probability of winning the top job, down from 92 percent last week.
He has cast himself as the only candidate who can deliver Brexit on October 31 — with or without a deal — while fighting off the electoral threats of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
Early on Friday, police were called to Johnson’s home after neighbors heard a loud altercation between him and his girlfriend. Police said there was no cause for police action.
The Guardian newspaper, which first reported the story, said an unidentified neighbor had heard Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, screaming followed by “slamming and banging.” At one point, Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat.”
Johnson declined to answer questions about the incident at a hustings event in Birmingham on Saturday.
Hunt said the personal life of Johnson was irrelevant but that the candidates should explain their Brexit positions — and specifically what would a new leader do if lawmakers tried to sink a new government heading toward a no-deal Brexit.
“If parliament takes no-deal off the table before Oct. 31, will Boris call a general election?” Hunt said. “I think a general election would be catastrophic.”
Hunt said he would seek a better deal from the EU to leave on Oct. 31 and would, if absolutely necessary, leave without a deal. If parliament took a no-deal Brexit off the table, he intimated there would have to be delay.
“In that situation, you would have to carry on negotiating,” Hunt said. “I want to leave by Oct. 31 but if parliament stops it the prime minister has to obey the law.”
Johnson repeated on Monday that he would lead the United Kingdom out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
“We are going to come out of the EU on October 31,” he wrote in The Daily Telegraph. “This time we are not going to bottle it.”
Like Hunt, Johnson promised lower taxes if he wins the top job.
When asked the naughtiest thing he had ever done, Hunt said: “When I was backpacking through India, I once had a Bhang Lassi — which is a kind of cannabis lassi — that’s the naughtiest thing I am prepared to confess to on this program.”