Venezuela braces for unrest as Maduro clamps down

Venezuela was plunged into turmoil in January when Guaido declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019
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Venezuela braces for unrest as Maduro clamps down

  • Venezuela has suffered more than four years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine
  • The UN says a quarter of its 30 million population are in urgent need of aid, and more than 2.7 million have fled the deprivation

CARACAS: Venezuela braced Saturday for another day of nationwide protests after President Nicolas Maduro clamped down further on opposition leader Juan Guaido, locking up his deputy in a military prison following a dramatic arrest.
Edgar Zambrano, deputy speaker of the opposition-majority National Assembly, is being held in preventive detention for “the flagrant commission of the crimes of treason, conspiracy and civil rebellion,” the Supreme Court said in a statement announcing the verdict of a lower court.
Zambrano was arrested by Maduro’s SEBIN intelligence service in dramatic circumstances on Wednesday for supporting the April 30 revolt organized by US-backed Guaido.
Maduro also accused his sacked intelligence chief of being a CIA “mole” and the architect of the failed military uprising.
He said General Christopher Figuera was “the one who orchestrated the coup d’etat” by contacting the group of around 30 members of the armed forces who joined Guaido’s mass demonstration.
“He was captured by the CIA a year ago and was working as a traitor, mole and infiltrator,” Maduro said of Figuera, whose defection to the opposition saw him rewarded earlier this week by the US, which removed him from its sanctions list.
The latest regime actions ratcheted up tensions ahead of a national demonstration Guaido called for Saturday to reject measures taken by the Supreme Court against opposition lawmakers.
Zambrano is one of 10 charged by the Supreme Court for participating in the April 30 movement.
He was transferred to the Caracas headquarters of the military police, Fort Tiuna, the court said.


One of the other charged lawmakers, Luis Florido, announced in a video on Friday that he had fled to neighboring Colombia, “sheltered from a regime that is willing to imprison deputies,” he said.
Three others — Richard Blanco, Mariela Magallanes and Americo De Grazia — have sought refuge in the Argentine and Italian embassies in Caracas.
Zambrano’s lawyer Lilia Camejo denounced the procedure under which Zambrano, a civilian, was sent to a military prison, and said his rights had been violated.
“From the moment of the arrest, they have violated the deputy’s rights. We did not have access to the file, nor could we be appointed in his defense,” Camejo told reporters.
Guaido said on Thursday the arrests were part of a bid by Maduro to dismantle the National Assembly legislature, Venezuela’s sole opposition-controlled institution but one which had already been rendered powerless by the pro-Maduro Supreme Court.
“If we can talk about a coup d’etat in Venezuela, here it is: the dismantling of the national parliament,” Guaido told a news conference, accusing Maduro’s regime of “state terrorism.”
The increase in regime repression “may be a precursor” to targeting Guaido himself, said Latin American analyst Risa Grais-Targow of Eurasia Group. “Zambrano’s arrest may be a test to gauge the response of the international community before it moves against Guaido.”
His arrest on Wednesday night was both bizarre and dramatic. The lawmaker commented on events live on Twitter as they unfolded.
The 64-year-old’s car was surrounded outside his Democratic Action Party’s headquarters before it was towed, with him still inside, to the notorious Helicoide prison inside SEBIN headquarters.
Guaido’s latest attempt to undermine armed forces support for the embattled Maduro fizzled out after two days of clashes between protesters and the security services that left several people dead.

Venezuela was plunged into turmoil in January when Guaido declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.
He has since been recognized by more than 50 countries as he steps up the pressure to oust Maduro, whom he considers illegitimate after 2018 elections widely seen as fraudulent.
But through months of crisis, Maduro — supported by China, Russia and his armed forces — has stood firm.
“The existing external and internal pressures have not been enough to convince Maduro and his inner circle to negotiate their exit ramp. What happens next in Venezuela is highly uncertain,” said Moises Rendon of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Separately on Friday, Venezuela announced it was re-opening its land border with Brazil after Maduro ordered it shut in February, frustrating Guaido’s attempt to bring stockpiled mostly-US humanitarian aid across the border.
Vice President Tareck El Aissami said the frontier with Brazil was “once again restored,” and maritime links with the Caribbean island of Aruba were also reopened.
However, the border with Colombia and links with other parts of the former Dutch Antilles — closed at the same time on Maduro’s orders — will remain shut, El Aissami said.
Venezuela has suffered more than four years of recession marked by shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
The United Nations says a quarter of its 30 million population are in urgent need of aid, and more than 2.7 million have fled the deprivation.


‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

Updated 21 May 2019
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‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

  • Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise
  • It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago

COLOMBO: One month after the Sri Lanka suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people, investigators have told AFP the bombers used “Mother of Satan” explosives favored by the Daesh group that are a new sign of foreign involvement.
Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise.
They named the explosive as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable but easily made mixture favored by Daesh militants who call it “Mother of Satan.”
It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago.
Daesh has claimed the Sri Lankan bombers operated as part of its franchise. But Sri Lankan and international investigators are anxious to know just how much outside help went into the attacks that left 258 dead and 500 injured.
“The group had easy access to chemicals and fertilizer to get the raw materials to make TATP,” an official involved in the investigation told AFP.
Sri Lankan detectives say the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), local militants blamed for the attacks, must have had foreign help to assemble the bombs.

“They would have had a face-to-face meeting to transfer this technology. This is not something you can do by watching a YouTube video,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Investigators had initially believed that C4 explosives — a favored weapon of Tamil Tiger rebels — were used, but forensic tests found TATP which causes more burning than C4.
Police have also confirmed that 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives found in January in the island’s northwest was TATP.
They are checking the travel records of the suicide bombers as well as foreign suspects to see when and where bomb-making lessons could have been staged.
“It looks like they used a cocktail of TATP and gelignite and some chemicals in the Easter attacks. They were short of the 100 kilos of raw TATP that were seized in January,” said the investigator.
Sri Lankan security forces have staged a series of raids since the bombings. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said Sunday that 89 suspects are in custody.
Army chief Mahesh Senanayake said last week that at least two suspects have been arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, underscoring the international link.
On April 26, six militants, three widows of the suicide bombers and six of their children were killed at an NTJ safe house near the eastern coastal town of Kalmunai.
Police found large quantities of chemicals and fertilizer there that was probably meant to make bombs, authorities said.
The government has admitted that Indian warnings of the looming attacks in early April were ignored.
But President Maithripala Sirisena has said eight countries are helping the investigation. A US Federal Bureau of Investigation team is in Sri Lanka and Britain, Australia and India have provided forensic and technical support.
China offered a fleet of vehicles to bolster the mobility of the security forces tracking down militants.

The Sri Lankan who led the attacks, Zahran Hashim, was known to have traveled to India in the months before he became one of the suicide bombers.
Moderate Muslims had warned authorities about the radical cleric who first set off alarm bells in 2017 when he threatened non-Muslims.
He was one of two bombers who killed dozens of victims at Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel on April 21.
Army chief Senanayake said Hashim had traveled to Tamil Nadu state in southern India and been in contact with extremists there.
Hashim, one of seven bombers who staged the attacks, also appeared in an Daesh group video that claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Another bomber who was meant to have hit a fourth hotel, has been named as Abdul Latheef Jameel who studied aviation engineering in Britain and Australia.
Authorities in the two countries are investigating whether he was radicalized whilst abroad.
Jameel blew himself up when confronted at a hideout after the attacks.