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
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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.


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.