Venezuela accuses US of trying to engineer coup

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures while he arrives for a special session of the National Constituent Assembly to present his annual state of the nation in Caracas, Venezuela January 14, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 January 2019

Venezuela accuses US of trying to engineer coup

  • Venezuela’s Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez accused Pence of having ordered “terrorists” to carry out acts of violence during Wednesday’s protest

CARACAS: Venezuela’s vice president on Tuesday accused her US counterpart of “openly calling for a coup d’etat” ahead of a mass street protest announced by the opposition for Wednesday.
“Yankee go home! We won’t let them interfere in the affairs of the homeland,” Delcy Rodriguez said in televised remarks.
Her comments came in reaction to American Vice President Mike Pence, who had earlier posted a video on Twitter in which he branded Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro “a dictator with no legitimate claim to power.”
“As the good people of Venezuela make your voices heard tomorrow, on behalf of the American people, we say: estamos con ustedes. We are with you,” Pence tweeted.
Venezuela’s Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez accused Pence of having ordered “terrorists” to carry out acts of violence during Wednesday’s protest.
The row came 24 hours after a group of soldiers rose up against Maduro at a command post in the north of Caracas and published a video on social media calling for the public to come out and support them.
They surrendered after the command post was surrounded by police and military units, with 27 people arrested.
But their voices were heard, according to the non-governmental Social Conflict Observatory, which said on Tuesday that anti-Maduro protests were recorded in at least 30 different locations around the capital.
Jorge Rodriguez said the mutinous soldiers had confessed to handing out some of the weapons they stole on Monday from a command depot to opposition activists “so they can carry out acts of violence, (cause) injuries and deaths during the protest.”
And he said they did so as they were following Pence’s orders.
Most of the protests took place in socially disadvantaged areas and some involved the blocking of streets and burning of garbage.
Police used tear gas to disperse some of the crowds, including in the northern Cotiza neighborhood where the group of soldiers made their stand.
The unrest, which lasted in some places until Tuesday morning, was a small taste of what may come on Wednesday when protesters are set to mobilize behind National Assembly president Juan Guaido.
The opposition deputy has branded Maduro a “usurper” and wants to establish a transitional government leading to elections.

The smell of pepper spray lingered in the air on Tuesday following clashes between protesters and law enforcement in the northern Los Mecedores neighborhood.
“Maduro out! That’s what the people were shouting. It was awful,” 60-year-old Dinora de Longa told AFP.
“The police were shooting and there was tear gas everywhere. I had to put my grandchildren in the bathroom. This won’t solve anything.”
One protest, in which people pelted cars with stones, took place on the motorway linking Caracas to the neighboring port of La Guaira, where the capital’s airport is located.
The anti-Maduro movement has gained traction since the former bus driver was sworn in for a second term as president on January 10.
Maduro won highly controversial elections in May that were boycotted by the opposition and dismissed as a fraud by the European Union, United States and Organization of American States.
The opposition accuses Maduro of running an authoritarian regime and acting unconstitutionally.
In 2016 he lost control of the National Assembly, enabling the opposition to challenge his leadership, but the loyalist-dominated Supreme Court stripped the legislature of its powers in 2017.
The National Assembly has been powerless since then but Guaido, who became president of the body earlier this month, has risen to the challenge of taking on Maduro’s iron grip on power.

Wednesday’s protest date of January 23 is significant because it marks 61 years since the fall of Marcos Perez Jimenez’s dictatorship.
The regime has responded by announcing its own demonstration in support of Maduro.
It will be the first major street movement since 125 people were killed during civil unrest between April and July 2017.
Venezuela is suffering the worst economic crisis in its modern history with poverty rising and the country gripped by four years of recession.
Basic necessities such as food and medicine have been in short supply, while spiraling inflation — predicted to reach a mind-boggling 10 million percent this year — has crippled the currency.
The crisis was sparked by a fall in the global oil price in 2014, a commodity Venezuela is almost entirely reliant upon.
Its crude production has dropped to barely a third of its level a decade ago.

Disputes over Kabul guest list threaten Afghan peace meeting

Updated 2 min 11 sec ago

Disputes over Kabul guest list threaten Afghan peace meeting

  • Taliban mocks government ‘wedding party’ delegation
  • President’s isolation in peace process continues

KABUL: A crucial meeting between the Afghan government and the Taliban on how to end the war could be dead in the water before it begins, as disputes and disarray broke out over the guest list.

The landmark meeting, due to be held in Doha at the weekend, will bring together senior government officials from Kabul and the insurgents for the first time in the peace process.

But the Taliban has already said it will be meeting these delegates in the Qatari capital as private individuals, not as representatives of the administration.

The Taliban dismisses the government in Kabul as a puppet of the West, refusing to meet its representatives and isolating President Ashraf Ghani from peace talks that have previously been held with the US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and other parties.

And, days before the Doha ice-breaker is due to start, the government’s guest list of 250 has angered some and drawn ridicule from others, including the Taliban. Some on the list have said they will not go.

Kabul’s list comprises political elites, family members of war victims, tribal chiefs, former government officials, members of civil society as well as state officials. There are also 52 women on the list.

The Taliban is sending a delegation of 25.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Qatar had “no plans for accepting so many people from Kabul and neither is such participation normal in such conferences.”

The event was “an orderly and prearranged conference ... not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul,” he said in a statement.

The Taliban furthermore said it would be talking to delegates as “private individuals” and not as government representatives, and that only a limited number of individuals would be selected as final participants in the talks.

Some of those on Kabul’s list said they would not go.

Atta Mohammed Noor, a northern regional strongman whose ties with President Ashraf Ghani have hit an all-time low, said the government had drawn a “narrowly mined” list that included Ghani’s favorites.

He is boycotting the talks.

Amrullah Saleh, who has served in top security positions and is Ghani’s first deputy for the presidential elections, is also staying away despite being on the list.

“I remain grateful to President Ashraf Ghani for adding me on the list of speakers to represent … Afghanistan in the Doha conference,” Saleh said in a statement.

“However, I won’t attend. The Taliban is the only and the biggest obstacle to peace as it continues a campaign of massacre and destruction.”

The UN Security Council earlier this week condemned the Taliban’s spring offensive, which would only result in “more unnecessary suffering and destruction” for the Afghan people.

The Security Council urged “all parties to the conflict to seize the opportunity to begin an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue” and negotiations that resulted in a political settlement.

But an intra-Afghan dialogue will be difficult to achieve even without the Taliban’s resistance to the government, and senior journalist Tahir Qairy pointed to the differences in Ghani’s circle.

“There is not even a shared and mutual understanding between the president and his future hopeful VP” on the meeting, he told Arab News.

Another journalist, Mujib Mashal, tweeted: “Afghan delegation’s departure ... has been delayed as the list issue has become a big mess - 1st among each other & now with Taliban. But event at this point is still on for Saturday morning start (though list issue will be hard to resolve between now and then).”

He later tweeted that the line-up had been a divisive issue for the political elite in Kabul. “Peace talks overlapping with national elections means every little move is caught up in domestic political jostling, every player wanting a piece.”

If the Doha meeting goes ahead it will be the first major interaction between the Taliban and members of Ghani’s government, although the group met Afghan politicians in Moscow earlier this year.

The Doha meeting following several rounds of closed-door talks between the Taliban and US diplomats in recent months, where the two sides made progress over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban agreeing to not allowing Afghan soil to be used against any country.

On Wednesday, Ghani addressed many of the participants heading to Doha.

“You are undertaking a mission for which our nation has waited almost for 40 years, and that (mission) is a dignified peace,” he told them.

“For the first time, we have the opportunity to hold comprehensive debates with the opposite side,” he said, flanked by former President Hamid Karzai and other prominent members of Afghanistan’s political elite.

Lawmaker Hafeez Mansoor, one of those going to Doha, told Arab News the meeting was aimed at “building trust between the sides and an opportunity to have them express their feelings on how the war can come to an end.”