Army declares loyalty to Maduro as Venezuela braces for giant rally

Venezuela is bracing for what President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents say will be the “mother of all protests” on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2017

Army declares loyalty to Maduro as Venezuela braces for giant rally

CARACAS: Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has declared the army’s loyalty to President Nicolas Maduro, who ordered troops into the streets ahead of a major protest by opponents trying to oust him.
Venezuela is bracing for what Maduro’s opponents vow will be the “mother of all protests” Wednesday, after two weeks of clashes between police and demonstrators protesting against moves by the leftist leader and his allies to tighten their grip on power.
The center-right opposition has called on the military — a pillar of Maduro’s power — to turn on the president amid an economic and political crisis that has triggered severe food shortages, riots and looting.
But the defense minister said the army “confirms its unconditional loyalty to the president.”
He made the comment before thousands of rifle-carrying members of the pro-Maduro “Bolivarian militia,” who cheered with fists raised at a rally outside the presidential palace.
Maduro thanked the army and the militia for their support and announced he planned to expand the latter civilian force to half a million armed members.
“Loyalty is repaid with loyalty,” he said.
The rally came hours after Maduro ordered the military into the streets to defend the leftist “Bolivarian revolution” launched by his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.
“From the first reveille (on Monday morning), from the first rooster crow, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will be in the streets ... saying, ‘Long live the Bolivarian revolution,’” he said on Sunday night in a televised address.
He called for the militia to be in “permanent training” and “permanent deployment” to defend Venezuela against “any imperialist aggression” — a thinly veiled reference to the US.
Senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles dismissed Maduro’s announcement.
“The old fogey has announced one rifle for every militia member. He is more desperate than ever,” Capriles wrote on Twitter.
“Venezuela does not want rifles, it wants food and medicine.”
Venezuela has been rocked by unrest since March 30, when Maduro’s camp moved to consolidate its control with a Supreme Court decision quashing the power of the opposition-majority legislature.
The court partly backtracked after an international outcry, but tension only rose further when authorities slapped a political ban on Capriles.
Five people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the ensuing protests as demonstrators clashed with riot police firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
Non-government groups have accused the authorities of repression of protesters and of using firearms to put down the rallies.
Padrino Lopez on Monday blamed the violence on criminals, retorting that “action by the state to restore public order cannot be called repression.”
Maduro’s opponents have called for a massive protest Wednesday, a national holiday that marks the start of Venezuela’s independence struggle in 1810.
The president’s supporters have called a counter-demonstration the same day.
It is a touchy date in Venezuela, where Chavez and Maduro have built a politics of populist, left-wing nationalism around the fight for independence from colonial Spain and around the hero of the struggle, Simon Bolivar.
Eleven Latin American countries on Monday asked Venezuela to guarantee the “right to peaceful demonstration,” lamenting deaths that have already occurred during the protests.
Maduro’s Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez on Twitter called the statement from the 11 countries “political selectivity,” accusing the group of endorsing “the violent vandalism of the opposition.”
Maduro is fighting efforts to force him from power as Venezuela flounders through a crippling three-year recession and confronts the world’s highest inflation rate.
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but the fall in global crude prices since 2014 has laid bare its overwhelming dependence on its chief export.
Lacking the oil dollars it once used to import nearly everything else, the country has been hit by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods like deodorant and toilet paper.
With some 165,000 troops and 25,000 reserves, the army controls production and distribution of basic foods.
Eleven of Maduro’s 32 government ministers are current or retired military officers.


Germany urges ‘restraint’ after Turks and Kurds clash on streets

Updated 19 sec ago

Germany urges ‘restraint’ after Turks and Kurds clash on streets

BERLIN: German authorities on Tuesday appealed to Turkish and Kurdish communities to avoid echoing the Middle Eastern conflict, after clashes between the two groups over Ankara’s offensive in northeastern Syria.
Police said at least five people had been injured in fights between the two communities late on Monday.
“We have a responsibility to prevent the conflict in the region becoming a conflict in our society... in Germany,” integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz told the Funke newspaper group.
“I expect all sides, especially migrant organizations and religious communities, to take responsibility and contribute to restraint.”
The commissioner advises the government on integration and serves as a point of contact for migrants and community organizations.
The clashes happened as around 350 people marched through the western city of Herne on Monday protesting Turkey’s offensive in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria, police said in a statement.
They were “provoked with hand signals” by people drinking at a nearby kiosk, the statement added.
“Some of them stormed into the kiosk, attacked two people inside and injured them” and they also broke a window.
The demonstration continued and someone threw a bottle at the marchers from a Turkish-owned cafe as they passed.
“The reaction was very emotional and angry” as several participants again rushed into the cafe, breaking windows and furniture and injuring at least one person inside, as well as a police officer who intervened.
Nevertheless, “the police were able to calm the situation.”
Among the five people hurt was the organizer of the march. He, too, was attacked when he tried to stop the violence.
Of the roughly three million people with Turkish nationality or roots living in Germany, around one million are Kurds.
Politicians regularly warn of tensions between the two communities, which have been stoked by Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters inside Syria.
“According to the 30-year-old Turkish citizen, the men had assaulted him because of the jacket he was wearing, which had a Turkish national flag on it,” a Berlin police statement said.
The leader of the Kurdish community in Germany, Ali Ertan Toprak, called Tuesday for calm.
“Our message is: do not let yourself be provoked. Do not react to provocations from the Turkish nationalist side,” he told Funke.
“If there are riots, it will harm our casue,” Toprak said. Kurds had “no interest in violence spreading on German streets.”
Turkish troops moved last Wednesday into the Syrian border zone controlled by Kurdish militias, which helped a Western-led coalition fight Islamic State (IS) jihadists but are accused of terrorism by Ankara.
Germany, along with European allies such as France, has condemned the offensive and halted arms exports to Turkey.