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.


Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 49 min 11 sec ago
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Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.