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.


Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

Updated 19 min 26 sec ago
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Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

  • Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday
  • “We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor

CHRISTCHURCH: Muslims held emotional prayers inside Christchurch’s main mosque on Saturday for the first time since a white supremacist massacred worshippers there, as New Zealand sought to return to normality after the tragedy.
The Al Noor mosque had been taken over by police for investigations and security reasons after alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant gunned down Muslims gathered there and at a smaller mosque for Friday prayers on March 15, killing 50 people.
Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday.
“We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor, adding that there were no plans yet to fully reopen.
Among the first to enter was massacre survivor Vohra Mohammad Huzef, who said two of his roommates were killed and that he managed to live only by hiding under bodies.
“I could feel the bullets hitting the people and I could feel the blood coming down on me from the people who were shot,” said Huzef, a Christchurch civil engineer originally from India.
“Everyone wants to get back in again to give praise and to catch up. This is the central point of our community.”
The attacks shocked a country of 4.5 million that is known for its tolerance and prompted global horror, heightened by Tarrant’s cold-blooded livestreaming of the massacre.
New Zealand came to a standstill on Friday to mark one week since the bloodshed, with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast across the country followed by two minutes of silence.
The ceremonies saw poignant scenes of Maoris performing the traditional haka war dance, and non-Muslim New Zealand women donning makeshift Islamic headscarves in solidarity.
A day earlier, the country outlawed the military-style rifles used in the assault with immediate effect.
But one of four concert sites at a music festival in the capital Wellington was evacuated on Saturday night just before a planned minute of silence for Christchurch, underlining lingering apprehensions.
Police cited unspecified “concerns about a person,” but later called it an “innocent misunderstanding” and the concert was slated to proceed.
In Christchurch, police also handed back Linwood Mosque, the second killing zone several kilometers away from Al Noor, but no plans to allow visitors were announced.
An armed police presence will remain at both mosques, as well as others around New Zealand.
Workers have rushed to repair the mosques’ bullet-pocked walls and clean blood-spattered floors.
At Al Noor, visitors knelt at a garden tap to wash their feet and faces in ritual pre-prayer ablutions.
Some wept quietly inside the mosque, where bright sunlight streamed through windows and the air smelled of fresh paint. No bullet holes were seen.
Men and women then knelt and prayed on a padded carpet underlay taped to the floor, still awaiting replacements for the mosque’s blood-stained rugs.
Several members of Christchurch semi-professional football club Western A.F.C. arrived in team colors to honor three victims who were known to the team due to their interest in the sport. The players left a bouquet of flowers outside the entrance to the mosque’s grounds.
The victims included 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, who dreamed of playing in goal for Manchester United, according to his father.
“We all love playing football and the best thing we can do is just to go out and enjoy it really, and obviously play for those guys that have been lost and think about them while we are doing it,” said team member Aaron McDonald, 20.
The mosque’s imam Gamal Fouda arrived draped in a New Zealand flag.
The day before, Fouda delivered an impassioned memorial service at a park next to the mosque that was watched globally and in which he praised “unbreakable” New Zealand for uniting in the tragedy’s wake.
Around 2,000 people gathered Saturday at the same park to join a “March for Love” procession through Christchurch.
Officials and police said two relatives of victims had died, with New Zealand identifying one as 65-year-old Suad Adwan, who had arrived from Jordan for the burial of her son Kamel Darwish, 38.
The grief-stricken mother was found Saturday morning having apparently died in her sleep, just hours after her son’s burial, of what police called a “medical event.”
No other details on the deaths were given.
But normality slowly returned to Christchurch as children played cricket near Al Noor and a previously scheduled 100-kilometer (62-mile) cycling race went ahead as planned.
New Zealand, which has already charged two people for distributing the gruesome livestreamed video of the attack, has now also made it a crime to share the alleged killer’s “manifesto,” local media reported.
In the document, Tarrant says the killings were in response to what he termed a Muslim “invasion” of Western countries.
“Others have referred to this publication as a ‘manifesto’, but I consider it a crude booklet that promotes murder and terrorism,” Chief Censor David Shanks was quoted as saying.