Venezuela’s Maduro to throw concert rivaling Richard Branson

Venezuela’s Maduro to throw concert rivaling Richard Branson
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores, attend a meeting with supporters in Caracas, Venezuela January 22, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 February 2019

Venezuela’s Maduro to throw concert rivaling Richard Branson

Venezuela’s Maduro to throw concert rivaling Richard Branson
  • Maduro’s government has been providing people with deeply discounted boxes of cooking oil, flour and other items, while coming under accusations it is using food as a political tool

CARACAS, Venezuela: President Nicolas Maduro’s government barely missed a beat Monday in announcing plans for its own huge concert to rival one being organized by a billionaire backer of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the government will throw a concert Saturday and Sunday on Venezuela’s side of the border — opposite one in Colombia being spearheaded by Richard Branson, a British adventurer and founder of the Virgin Group.
Rodriguez did not announce the artists who are expected to perform, saying only that the concert would be massive.
“People from all over the world want to take part in this message of love, solidarity and denunciation against the aggression that they’re trying against the Venezuelan people,” Rodriguez said.
Branson told The Associated Press that he hopes the concert he is throwing will save lives by raising money for “much-needed medical help” for crisis-torn Venezuela, which is suffering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine.
He said he is aiming to raise $100 million for suffering Venezuelans and open the borders to emergency aid. Up to 300,000 people are expected to attend Friday’s concert featuring Spanish-French singer Manu Chao, Mexican band Mana, Spanish singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz and Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra.
Branson said that it is not funded by any government and that all the artists are performing for free. The plan is to raise donations from viewers watching the concert on a livestream over the Internet.
“Venezuela sadly has not become the utopia that the current administration of Venezuela or the past administration were hoping for, and that has resulted in a lot of people literally dying from lack of medical help,” Branson said in a telephone interview from Necker, his private island in the British Virgin Islands. “I think it will draw attention to the problem on a global basis.”
The concert is being held in Cucuta, a Colombian border city of some 700,000 people that has been swollen by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have fled hardships in their homeland. The city is the staging point for foreign humanitarian aid — much of it from the US government — that is being blocked from entering Venezuela by Maduro’s socialist administration.
Branson said he hopes that Venezuela’s armed forces, until now loyal to Maduro, will allow the aid to reach Venezuelans.
“We want to make it a joyous occasion,” Branson said in his first interview since he announced the concert on a brief video posted online last week. “And we’re hoping that sense prevails and that the military allows the bridge to be open so that much-needed supplies can be sent across.”
He said he opposes trying to carry the aid in by force, but clearly favors Guaido in his standoff with Maduro.
“I don’t personally feel that force should be used at all by either side,” he said.
“If they (Venezuelan troops) stop the aid coming through and there are pictures of hundreds of thousands of people wanting to come through from both sides, that will send out a potent message, a very powerful message to Venezuela, to everybody, that there is aid that is trying to get across, but the army is stopping it,” Branson said. “That hopefully will mean that Juan Guaido and his people will have a better chance to have another election where sense can prevail.”
Guaido, who heads Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress, declared himself interim president Jan. 23 with the backing of the United States and most South American and European nations, which argue that Maduro’s re-election last May was fraudulent. Guaido has announced that humanitarian aid will enter Venezuela on Saturday, the day after Branson’s concert.
Branson said the initiative follows his involvement with Live Aid and years of work with “The Elders,” a group of elder statesmen and political leaders that he helped establish to avoid conflict and assist in humanitarian situations.
“I talked to Juan Guaido, and the team, the people around him, to see what could be most helpful,” Branson said. “And they said that the thing that Venezuela needed the most was medical help in particular, money to be raised to try to keep doctors and nurses in Venezuela, not leaving Venezuela, and just basic medical help.”
Meanwhile, Guaido said the move by Maduro’s government to put on a rival concert was “desperate.”
“They’re debating whether the aid should come in or not ... They don’t know what to do,” Guaido said Monday. “They’re now making up a concert. How many concerts are they going to stage?“
Venezuela’s information minister also said the government would distribute 20,000 boxes of subsidized food Saturday.
Maduro’s government has been providing people with deeply discounted boxes of cooking oil, flour and other items, while coming under accusations it is using food as a political tool.


6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece
Updated 32 min 34 sec ago

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

ATHENS: A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Greece on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, prompting residents in the city of Larissa to rush into the streets according to local media.
The Institute of Geodynamics in Athens said the quake, which could be felt across central and northern Greece, had measured at a magnitude of 6.0.
According to the Athens observatory, the epicentre of the quake was 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of the town of Elassona, near Larissa.


Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.


Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police
Updated 03 March 2021

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

AMSTERDAM: Dutch police on Wednesday said a coronavirus testing location north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after an explosion went off at the location before the site opened.

The blast in the town of Bovenkarspel, 55 km north of the capital, shattered windows but caused no injuries, police from the province of North Holland said in a statement.

They said they had cordoned off the area to investigate.

The explosive “must have been placed” there, police spokesman Menno Hartenberg told Reuters, adding that “something metal” had caused the explosion.

“We don't know yet exactly what exploded, the explosives experts must first investigate,” Hartenberg said.

“What we're saying is that something like that doesn't just happen by accident, it has to be laid,” he spokesman said.


Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
Updated 03 March 2021

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
  • Imran Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The ruling party of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his political allies will seek to wrest control of Pakistan’s Senate from opposition parties on Wednesday in indirect elections to 37 seats in the 104-member upper house of the country’s parliament.
Though his party won the 2018 general election, Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation – including legal reforms sought by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“They have difficulty in legislating, and many laws are stuck,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of the independent research organization PILDAT, said.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which translates into Pakistan Movement for Justice, has 12 seats in the Senate, and the two main opposition parties Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) have 12 and 25 seats each.
PTI is looking to go up to 25 seats after the elections, and, along with other coalition parties and independents, have a slender majority in the Senate.
The electoral college for the Senate elections, which are held every three years on half of the chamber’s strength, comprises Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies and the lower house of parliament.
With opposition parties controlling the Senate, the government has had to pass interim legislation through Presidential Ordinances, which expire in 120 days.
The government’s legislators and allies in the lower house of parliament will vote on making Khan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, a senator. The result could show how much confidence there is in the administration.
“It could determine who has a majority in parliament... it will be an embarrassment for the government, and could even lead to seeking a fresh vote of confidence,” Mehboob said.
The lead up to the potentially pivotal election has been marked by the government and opposition charging each other with seeking votes through unfair means.


Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
Updated 03 March 2021

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
  • Daesh fighters targeted three female employees of a television station

Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack that killed three female media workers in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday evening.
The militant group, which has a presence in Afghanistan, said its fighters had targeted the three female employees of a television station in the eastern city of Jalalabad, according to SITE Intelligence group.
Three women who worked for Enikas TV aged between 18 and 20 had died and a fourth was critically injured after being shot on their way home from work, Afghan officials had said.