Major EU nations recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president

Opposition leader and self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido has called on more members of the military to abandon the country’s socialist government. (AFP)
Updated 04 February 2019
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Major EU nations recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president

  • European support heightened the global showdown over Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule
  • Russia said it was foreign meddling and Venezuelans should be allowed to resolve their own domestic problems

 

MADRID/PARIS: Eight European nations joined the United States in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president on Monday, heightening the global showdown over Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule.

Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Germany’s coordinated move came after the expiry of an eight-day deadline set last weekend for Maduro to call a new election. Austria and Lithuania also lined up behind the self-declared interim president Guaido.

The Venezuelan leader, accused of running the OPEC nation of 30 million people like a dictatorship and wrecking its economy, has defied them, saying Europe’s ruling elite are sycophantically following President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Guaido, who leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declared himself temporary leader last month in a move that has split international powers and brought Venezuelans onto the streets.

Trump immediately recognized him but European Union nations were nervous over the global precedent of a self-declaration.

Russia and China, who have poured billions of dollars of investment and loans into Venezuela, are supporting Maduro in an extension of a geopolitical tussle with the United States playing out across various global flashpoints.

“Attempts to legitimize usurped power” constituted “interference in Venezuela's internal affairs,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“I recognize the president of Venezuela’s assembly, Mr. Juan Guaido, as president in charge of Venezuela,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a televised statement, urging a free and fair election as soon as possible.

“Venezuelans have the right to express themselves freely and democratically. France recognizes @jguaido as ‘interim president’ to implement an electoral process,” President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said via social media. “UK alongside European allies now recognizes @jguaido as interim constitutional president until credible elections can be held.”

He added: “The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end.”

Maduro, 56, a former union leader, bus driver and foreign leader, replaced former leader Hugo Chavez in 2013 after his death from cancer. But he has presided over an economic collapse and exodus of 3 million Venezuelans.

He blames a US-led “economic war” and also accuses Washington of seeking a coup against him in order to get its hands-on Venezuela’s oil wealth. It has the largest reserves in the world, but production has plunged under Maduro.

Critics say incompetent policies and corruption under both Maduro and Chavez have impoverished a once-wealthy nation while dissent has been brutally crushed.

Responding to the EU nations’ moves on Monday, Russia said it was foreign meddling and Venezuelans should be allowed to resolve their own domestic problems. The Maduro government is paying back both Russian and Chinese loans with oil.

In addition to the European pressure, a major bloc of Latin American nations plus Canada were to meet on Monday seeking to maintain their pressure on Maduro.

Maduro won re-election last year, but critics say it was a sham. Two opposition rivals with a good chance of winning were barred from standing, while food handouts and other subsidies to hungry Venezuelans were linked with political support.

Non-EU member Switzerland expressed concern and urged a “constitutional solution” and protection for Guaido, but did not specifically recognize him as president.


Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

Updated 34 min 41 sec ago
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Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

  • Potential bombers ‘at large’ as death toll lowered to 253
  • Muslims asked to shun Friday prayer

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.

A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”

Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.

The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.

Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says. 

Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.

Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.