Venezuela’s Maduro orders militia expansion as Guaido tours blackout-ravaged state

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, left, and his wife Cilia Flores lead the tenth anniversary celebration of the Bolivarian Militia in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, April 13, 2019. (AP)
Updated 14 April 2019
0

Venezuela’s Maduro orders militia expansion as Guaido tours blackout-ravaged state

  • So far, the military top brass has remained loyal to Maduro despite Guaido’s offer of amnesty to military members who switch sides. Hundreds of soldiers have sought asylum in neighboring Colombia

CARACAS/MARACAIBO: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday ordered an expansion of civilian militia by nearly one million members as opposition leader Juan Guaido toured western Zulia state, which has been hard hit by electricity blackouts.
Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly who in January invoked Venezuela’s constitution to assume an interim presidency, has called on the military to abandon Maduro amid a hyperinflationary economic collapse made worse by several nationwide blackouts in the past month.
Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by the United States and most Western countries, who agree with his argument that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
The civilian militia, created in 2008 by the late former president and Maduro mentor Hugo Chavez, reports directly to the presidency and is intended to complement the armed forces.
Maduro, who calls Guaido a US puppet, said he aimed to raise the number of militia members to three million by year-end from what he said was more than 2 million currently. Maduro has encouraged them to become involved in agricultural production.
Shortages of food and medicine have prompted more than three million Venezuelans to emigrate in recent years.
“With your rifles on your shoulders, be ready to defend the fatherland and dig the furrow to plant the seeds to produce food for the community, for the people,” Maduro, a socialist, told thousands of militia members gathered in the capital Caracas, wearing khaki camouflaged uniforms.
So far, the military top brass has remained loyal to Maduro despite Guaido’s offer of amnesty to military members who switch sides. Hundreds of soldiers have sought asylum in neighboring Colombia.
While electricity has largely been restored in Caracas, Maduro’s administration is rationing power to the rest of Venezuela.
Guaido is traveling in the interior to drum up support. In Zulia state, the site of the OPEC member’s first oil well and home to Venezuela’s second-largest city, Maracaibo, he said: “We are here to check on the situation, your suffering. But Zulia will rise up.”
Separately on Saturday, two employees of Venezuela’s central bank who were arrested after meeting with Guaido earlier this week were freed, rights group Penal Forum said.
Rights groups say Venezuelan authorities have arrested over 1,000 people after anti-government demonstrations this year. Guaido’s chief of staff was arrested last month.


More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

Updated 24 April 2019
0

More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

  • Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday
  • The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban

DURBAN: At least 60 people have been killed and more than 1,000 have fled their homes after heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides along South Africa’s eastern coast, authorities said on Wednesday.
Most of the deaths were in KwaZulu-Natal province. Flooding also killed at least three people in neighboring Eastern Cape province, state broadcaster SABC said.
The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban. Multiple dwellings collapsed in mudslides, said Robert McKenzie, a KwaZulu-Natal Emergency Medical Services spokesman.
Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday.
Victor da Silva, a resident of the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, said his family managed to evacuate before the floods destroyed their home and cars.
“On Monday, the water was just crazy. And yesterday morning I got here, everything was fine, my garage was still here, the other part of the house was still here, and it just couldn’t stop raining,” Da Silva said. “And then an hour and a half later, everything poof (vanished) because the rain just hasn’t stopped.
Authorities in southern Tanzania ordered evacuations of residents from low-lying areas and the closure of schools and offices ahead of landfall of Tropical Cyclone Kenneth on neighboring Mozambique’s coast on Thursday.
“We’ve decided to evacuate all residents of valleys and other low-lying areas and we advise them to seek refuge at public spaces,” Mtwara regional commissioner Gelasius Byakanwa, told reporters.
Johan Fourie said he fled his home in Amanzimtoti, Kwazulu-Natal, just before part of it collapsed.
“I nearly lost my life, and my neighbor, I believe, is in hospital,” Fourie told eNCA television.
The region had been hit by heavy rains for days, but authorities did not foresee the extent of the downpour late on Monday, said Lennox Mabaso, a spokesman for the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department.
“As a result, there was flooding and some structures were undermined and collapsed on people,” Mabaso said.
Some people were swept away by the water, he added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa visited affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday and was expected in the Eastern Cape in the next few days.
“This is partly what climate change is about, that it just hits when we least expect it,” he said.
Last week, 13 people were killed during an Easter service in KwaZulu-Natal when a church wall collapsed after days of heavy rains and strong winds.