Maduro creates military unit to protect public service installations

Handout photo released by the Venezuelan Presidency's press office showing Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (L) during a meeting with military commanders in the framework of the planning of "Civic Military Exercises" to take place in the weekend, at Miraflores Presidential palace in Caracas, on March 15, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 16 March 2019
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Maduro creates military unit to protect public service installations

  • The socialist leader accused the opposition of concocting a plan “to accompany the blackout with general violence,” claiming it was neutralized

CARACAS: Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro created a military unit on Friday charged with protecting basic installations and services such as electricity and water just over a week after the country was hit with a massive blackout.
Maduro blamed that on a cyberattack directed by the United States but critics say the government was at fault for failing to maintain infrastructure.
Speaking on television and radio, Maduro said the “Command for the Defense of Basic Strategic Services” would be tasked with ensuring “security, operability and maintenance.”
Its officers would be responsible for guaranteeing both “physical and cybernetic” security of infrastructure and maintenance of equipment.
Maduro repeated his claim that the blackout, which lasted almost a week, was due to “successive attacks” against the country’s major hydroelectric facility at Guri in Bolivar state, “directed” by US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton.
The blackout hit on March 7 and paralyzed the entire country.
The government announced on Tuesday that power was back on in practically the whole country but western regions still reported cuts.
The socialist leader accused the opposition of concocting a plan “to accompany the blackout with general violence,” claiming it was neutralized.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido launched a challenge to Maduro’s leadership in January by declaring himself acting president.
He has since been recognized by more than 50 countries, led by the US.
He said the blackout was caused by burning vegetation that damaged equipment.
Maduro accused him of “sabotage,” although experts doubt that version of events.
Venezuela has been in recession for more than four years and is suffering from an economic crisis.
An estimated 2.7 million people have left the country as poverty soared leaving shortages of food and medicines.


UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

Updated 44 min 45 sec ago
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UK PM candidate Hunt: Boris Johnson is a ‘coward’ for avoiding debates on Brexit

  • Jeremy Hunt: It was disrespectful for Boris Johnson to turn down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate
  • Hunt says candidates should explain their Brexit positions

LONDON: Jeremy Hunt, one of the two candidates vying to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, said on Monday that rival Boris Johnson was a coward for avoiding public head-to-head debates on what to do about Brexit.
“On the question of debates, he is being a coward,” Foreign Secretary Hunt said. “It is cowardice not to appear in head-to-head debates.”
Hunt, 52, said it was disrespectful for Johnson to have turned down the opportunity for a head-to-head debate on Sky television.
“People need to know what you’re going to do and you need to answer those questions,” Hunt said. “I promise Boris Johnson the fight of his life and he’s going to have that and he’s going to lose.”
Johnson, 55, is the favorite to win a vote of 160,000 Conservative Party members who will decide who will be the next prime minister. Betting markets give him a 79 percent implied probability of winning the top job, down from 92 percent last week.
He has cast himself as the only candidate who can deliver Brexit on October 31 — with or without a deal — while fighting off the electoral threats of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
Early on Friday, police were called to Johnson’s home after neighbors heard a loud altercation between him and his girlfriend. Police said there was no cause for police action.
The Guardian newspaper, which first reported the story, said an unidentified neighbor had heard Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, screaming followed by “slamming and banging.” At one point, Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat.”
Johnson declined to answer questions about the incident at a hustings event in Birmingham on Saturday.
Hunt said the personal life of Johnson was irrelevant but that the candidates should explain their Brexit positions — and specifically what would a new leader do if lawmakers tried to sink a new government heading toward a no-deal Brexit.
“If parliament takes no-deal off the table before Oct. 31, will Boris call a general election?” Hunt said. “I think a general election would be catastrophic.”
Hunt said he would seek a better deal from the EU to leave on Oct. 31 and would, if absolutely necessary, leave without a deal. If parliament took a no-deal Brexit off the table, he intimated there would have to be delay.
“In that situation, you would have to carry on negotiating,” Hunt said. “I want to leave by Oct. 31 but if parliament stops it the prime minister has to obey the law.”
Johnson repeated on Monday that he would lead the United Kingdom out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.
“We are going to come out of the EU on October 31,” he wrote in The Daily Telegraph. “This time we are not going to bottle it.”
Like Hunt, Johnson promised lower taxes if he wins the top job.
When asked the naughtiest thing he had ever done, Hunt said: “When I was backpacking through India, I once had a Bhang Lassi — which is a kind of cannabis lassi — that’s the naughtiest thing I am prepared to confess to on this program.”