Venezuela Independence Day marked by rival rallies, UN rebuke

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country’s rightful interim ruler, waves Venezuela’s national flag from a statue of independence hero General Francisco de Miranda, at a rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro and to commemorate the 208th anniversary of the country’s independence in Caracas, Venezuela July 5, 2019. (Reuters/Manaure Quintero)
Updated 06 July 2019

Venezuela Independence Day marked by rival rallies, UN rebuke

  • The crowd that gathered to hear the center-right leader, who in January declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority
  • The US, along with some fifty other countries, including major Latin American powers, has declared Maduro to be illegitimate and recognized Guido as the interim leader

CARACAS: Venezuela’s Independence Day was marked by rival rallies Friday, led by opposition leader Juan Guaido and President Nicholas Maduro, who waged a war of words even as the UN warned of eroded rule of law in the country.
Guaido, who considers himself Venezuela’s legitimate acting leader, implored supporters in the streets of Caracas not to give up hope: “Don’t leave! We’re going to get there! Have no doubt, we’ll succeed.”
The crowd that gathered to hear the center-right leader, who in January declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority, was markedly smaller than those at the beginning of the year.
The country was observing the July 5 holiday celebrating its 1811 Declaration of Independence.
Maduro, meanwhile, led a military parade down the Paseo de los Proceres, a boulevard honoring the country’s founders, and received a public display of support from the military’s top brass.
“Count on the armed forces... we are not afraid to face the enemies of the country,” General Remigio Ceballos, commander of operational strategy, assured the president.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet meanwhile presented a damning report on Venezuela which pointed to attacks on political opponents and activists, including torture and thousands of killings by security forces in the country.
She said that attempting to exercise the most basic rights like freedom of opinion, expression, association and assembly in Venezuela “entails a risk of reprisals and repression.”
However she later welcomed the release of 22 prisoners in recent days, including journalist Braulio Jatar and Lourdes Afiuni, a judge.
The Supreme Court confirmed the reversal of detention measures against the two, although they were yet to be released.
Afiuni, who has been detained since 2009 expressed her “immense gratitude” to Bachelet on Twitter, saying her release, if it was finalized, would “be the end of nine years and seven months of persecution and torture.”
Jatar’s sister denied he had been freed, but said she hoped he would be released on Thursday.
The United States, along with some fifty other countries, including major Latin American powers, has declared Maduro to be illegitimate and recognized Guido as the interim leader.
But Maduro has withstood a US-led pressure campaign that includes sanctions on Venezuela’s crucial oil exports, and still enjoys support from Russia, China and Cuba.


Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

Updated 17 min 54 sec ago

Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

  • The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election
  • The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday he would resign, lashing out at far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for pursuing his own interests by pulling the plug on the government coalition.
The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election after talks with parties in the coming days.
“I’m ending this government experience here... I will go to the president of the republic to inform him of my resignation,” Conte said after an almost hour-long speech to the Senate.
“It is irresponsible to initiate a government crisis,” Conte said after Salvini began his efforts to bring down the government in the hope of snap elections he believes will make him premier.
Conte was speaking following a week of fallout from Salvini’s decision to back out of the alliance between his League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement on August 8, plunging Italy into political turmoil.
After Conte announced his intention to resign, Senate speaker Elisabette Casellati told Salvini to leave the government bench and join his party’s senators, where Salvini said: “Thank you, finally, I would do it all again.”
“The Italians vote with their heads and hearts,” Salvini said, invoking the Virgin Mary to “protect the Italian people” and repeating his call for snap elections while also making a final appeal to M5S.
Caught on the back foot, Salvini last week made the surprise offer to back a key M5S proposal to cut the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605, but only if new elections were then swiftly held.
“Making citizens vote is the essence of democracy, asking them to vote every year is irresponsible,” Conte said as League senators booed and hissed.
“I heard you calling for ‘full powers’ and invoke (demonstrations in) the piazzas to support you, which worries me,” Conte said.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922 assumed so-called full powers to govern the country at his whim.
The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available.
A snap election, the forming of a new coalition without holding a new vote, and, although unlikely, the continuation of the current government would all be considered.
As leader of the far-right League, Salvini has proudly promoted his nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda and his blunt attacks against migrants, gay marriage and Islam have helped his party soar in opinion polls.
The political crisis has raised concerns about the Italian economy, whose debt ratio at 132 percent of gross domestic product is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.
Since the unwieldy government was formed in June 2018, uncertainty under the coalition has cost the country an extra five billion euros ($5.54 billion) in interest on its debt.
Salvini’s plan for a snap election — more than three years early — had envisioned a vote in October followed by him being crowned as prime minister.
According to opinion polls, the League could form a coalition with the anti-immigration, anti-LGBT Brothers of Italy, and possibly Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia.
But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini’s plan, with a coalition between M5S and the opposition center-left Democratic Party (PD) being discussed.
While there is bad blood between the two parties, M5S is languishing in the polls and wants to avoid an early election.
A PD-M5S coalition could lead to the opposite of what Salvini intended — with him out of government altogether instead of being its sole leader.
Former PD premier Matteo Renzi on Tuesday said that he “would not be part” of a PD-M5S alliance, as many in the anti-establishment party resent him as part of the old elite.
According to some analysts, Conte could also stay on as premier while trying to form an alliance with PD.
M5S leader Luigi Di Maio sent an open letter on Tuesday calling for Conte to take this option, describing him as a “rare pearl, a servant of the nation that Italy cannot lose.”
Salvini has been furious at the idea of being squeezed out by a M5S-PD alliance, saying he would get his supporters to “peacefully take to the streets” if it came about, although he made no mention of this call in the Senate.
But M5S founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, has rejected talk of reconciliation with Salvini, whom he reportedly described as an “untrustworthy traitor.”