Guaido vows to oust Maduro as thousands of Venezuelans protest

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido waves to the crowd during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas. (Reuters)
Updated 13 March 2019
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Guaido vows to oust Maduro as thousands of Venezuelans protest

  • Many waved large banners calling on Maduro to go
  • Guaido is seeking to capitalize on public anger over the blackout

CARACAS: Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido vowed on Tuesday to take Nicolas Maduro’s place in the presidential palace “very soon,” as thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas to protest.

“We need an office to work in, so very soon, and when we have the armed forces totally on our side, we’ll go to find my office there in Miraflores. Very soon,” Guaido told supporters, who chanted back: “Yes, you can!”

Demonstrators banged pots and sounded car horns at the protest in a square in the east of the capital. Many waved large banners calling on Maduro to go. “The situation is very difficult, we are hoping that this government will change. We’ve had enough of this chaos!” said one of the demonstrators, Miguel Gonzalez. 

“With courage and strength I asked you to believe in yourselves, that Venezuela would emerge from the darkness, that the end of the usurpation is very close,” said Guaido, who is recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries.

Venezuela’s state prosecutor, Tarek William Saab, told reporters he would place Guaido under investigation for “his alleged involvement in the sabotage of the Venezuelan electric grid.”

It is the first government move against the US-backed Guaido since his return to Venezuela last week after defying a travel ban to visit several allied South American leaders. Maduro has blamed a devastating multi-day blackout plaguing Venezuela on Washington, and declared “victory” in what he called an “electricity war” triggered by the Pentagon.

He also called for support from allies including Russia and China as well as the UN in investigating the US “cyber attack” he said was responsible for the blackout.

While Maduro pointed the finger at Washington, critics have long blamed the government for failing to maintain the power grid.

Guaido, 35, is seeking to capitalize on public anger over the blackout, which has piled misery on a population suffering years of economic crisis and shortages of food and medicine under Maduro.

The youthful opposition chief — locked in a power struggle with Maduro since declaring himself interim president on Jan. 23 — has branded the socialist leader a “usurper” over his re-election in May, widely dismissed as neither free nor fair. Outlining the case against Guaido, Saab said the opposition leader had disseminated a series of messages that have “stoked violence.”

“At this moment, he appears as one of the intellectual authors of this electrical sabotage and is practically calling for a civil war in the middle of this blackout,” Saab said.

The US kept up the pressure with special envoy Elliott Abrams saying Washington would soon impose “very significant additional sanctions” on institutions doing business with Maduro’s government.

It has already targeted a growing list of individuals and companies linked to the Maduro government, including state oil company PDVSA.

At Guaido’s urging, the opposition-dominated National Assembly declared a “state of alarm” on Monday to pave the way for the delivery of international aid, 250 tons of which has been stuck for a month at Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil.

However, with Maduro controlling the military and security services — which are currently preventing aid from entering the country — he has no means of enforcing it.

Maduro used the military to begin distributing food, water and other assistance in several districts on Tuesday.

Marshaled by security forces, crowds formed impatient lines at water trucks in some areas, as they waited to fill containers. But tensions were running high amid the shortages.


Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019
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Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.