Foreign diplomats urge Venezuela’s Maduro to hand over power

Nicolas Maduro is poised to be sworn in for a second term as president of Venezuela. (AP Photo)
Updated 04 January 2019
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Foreign diplomats urge Venezuela’s Maduro to hand over power

  • The strong rebuke from the Lima Group urging Maduro to hand over power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly comes days before his Jan. 10 inauguration
  • A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in crisis after two decades of socialist rule, marked by hyperinflation

LIMA, Peru: Diplomats from a dozen Latin American countries and Canada on Friday urged President Nicolas Maduro to abstain from being sworn in for a second term and cede power until new elections can be held, saying it is the only way to restore democracy in Venezuela.
The strong rebuke from the Lima Group urging Maduro to hand over power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly comes days before his Jan. 10 inauguration to a six-year term widely rejected as illegitimate.
Even before announcing its decision, the gathering in Peru’s capital prompted a sharp response from Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who said the coalition is taking orders directly from US President Donald Trump, which Caracas frequently accuses of spearheading an economic war against the country.
“What a display of humiliating subordination!” Arreaza said on Twitter.
A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in crisis after two decades of socialist rule, marked by hyperinflation that makes it difficult for people to afford scarce food and medicine. An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have migrated from their country since 2015, according to the United Nations.
The Lima Group formed more than a year ago to advocate for a solution to Venezuela’s crisis that threatens regional instability.
Immediately following Maduro’s May 20 re-election, the coalition said it refused to recognize the results, decrying the vote as failing to meet “international standards of a democratic, free, just and transparent process.”
Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are among the group’s members. Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio recently had said his country would propose that Lima Group members break diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
However, the political make-up of the coalition has recently shifted, most notably in Mexico.
The newly elected government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a member of the coalition but abstained from the vote.
His administration has adopted a policy of non-intervention, and Maduro traveled to Obrador’s inauguration, meeting privately with the new Mexican leader.
The United States is not formally a member of the Lima Group, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in the meeting via video conference.
It follows Pompeo’s recent visit to Latin America during which he attended the inauguration of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and then stopped in Colombia to meet with President Ivan Duque. Both Bolsonaro and Duque signaled a united stance against Maduro’s government aligned with the United States.
The Trump administration considers Maduro’s government a “dictatorship,” sanctioning roughly 70 top officials and blocking US banks from doing business with Venezuela, putting a financial strangle-hold on the cash-strapped country.
Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America, called the optics of Pompeo’s presence in Friday’s meeting “terrible.”
The Lima Group was created to showcase regional concern for the crisis among Latin American countries and Pompeo’s involvement furthers a perception that the US has been quietly directing its moves, he said.
Rather, the coalition should push for neutral actors to open dialogues between Maduro’s government and opposition leaders, finding ways to reduce mounting international pressure and reaching a peaceful resolution in Venezuela, Ramsey said.
“I think what the region needs to do now is to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Ramsey said. “Isolating the government and continuing to pile on the pressure without channeling some kind of productive release hasn’t produced productive results.”


‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

Updated 24 min 22 sec ago
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‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

  • Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise
  • It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago

COLOMBO: One month after the Sri Lanka suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people, investigators have told AFP the bombers used “Mother of Satan” explosives favored by the Daesh group that are a new sign of foreign involvement.
Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise.
They named the explosive as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable but easily made mixture favored by Daesh militants who call it “Mother of Satan.”
It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago.
Daesh has claimed the Sri Lankan bombers operated as part of its franchise. But Sri Lankan and international investigators are anxious to know just how much outside help went into the attacks that left 258 dead and 500 injured.
“The group had easy access to chemicals and fertilizer to get the raw materials to make TATP,” an official involved in the investigation told AFP.
Sri Lankan detectives say the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), local militants blamed for the attacks, must have had foreign help to assemble the bombs.

“They would have had a face-to-face meeting to transfer this technology. This is not something you can do by watching a YouTube video,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Investigators had initially believed that C4 explosives — a favored weapon of Tamil Tiger rebels — were used, but forensic tests found TATP which causes more burning than C4.
Police have also confirmed that 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives found in January in the island’s northwest was TATP.
They are checking the travel records of the suicide bombers as well as foreign suspects to see when and where bomb-making lessons could have been staged.
“It looks like they used a cocktail of TATP and gelignite and some chemicals in the Easter attacks. They were short of the 100 kilos of raw TATP that were seized in January,” said the investigator.
Sri Lankan security forces have staged a series of raids since the bombings. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said Sunday that 89 suspects are in custody.
Army chief Mahesh Senanayake said last week that at least two suspects have been arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, underscoring the international link.
On April 26, six militants, three widows of the suicide bombers and six of their children were killed at an NTJ safe house near the eastern coastal town of Kalmunai.
Police found large quantities of chemicals and fertilizer there that was probably meant to make bombs, authorities said.
The government has admitted that Indian warnings of the looming attacks in early April were ignored.
But President Maithripala Sirisena has said eight countries are helping the investigation. A US Federal Bureau of Investigation team is in Sri Lanka and Britain, Australia and India have provided forensic and technical support.
China offered a fleet of vehicles to bolster the mobility of the security forces tracking down militants.

The Sri Lankan who led the attacks, Zahran Hashim, was known to have traveled to India in the months before he became one of the suicide bombers.
Moderate Muslims had warned authorities about the radical cleric who first set off alarm bells in 2017 when he threatened non-Muslims.
He was one of two bombers who killed dozens of victims at Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel on April 21.
Army chief Senanayake said Hashim had traveled to Tamil Nadu state in southern India and been in contact with extremists there.
Hashim, one of seven bombers who staged the attacks, also appeared in an Daesh group video that claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Another bomber who was meant to have hit a fourth hotel, has been named as Abdul Latheef Jameel who studied aviation engineering in Britain and Australia.
Authorities in the two countries are investigating whether he was radicalized whilst abroad.
Jameel blew himself up when confronted at a hideout after the attacks.