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Venezuela congress leader challenges Maduro’s right to presidency

The head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament challenged President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, saying he is ready to assume country’s presidency himself until free and fair elections can be held. Juan Gerardo Guaido Marquez made the announcement at an anti-government rally in the capital, Caracas on Friday, a day after Maduro was sworn in for a second…

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Venezuela congress leader challenges Maduro’s right to presidency

The head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament challenged President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, saying he is ready to assume country’s presidency himself until free and fair elections can be held.

Juan Gerardo Guaido Marquez made the announcement at an anti-government rally in the capital, Caracas on Friday, a day after Maduro was sworn in for a second term, deemed by many as “illegitimate”. 

Guaido, who leads the internationally-recognised National Assembly, said there was no doubt that Maduro was a “usurper” and called for the support of the public, armed forces and international community in restoring constitutional order to Venezuela. 

“I assume the duty imposed by the Constitution and Article 333, which obliges all Venezuelans, vested with authority or not, to fight for the restitution of constitutional order,” the National Assembly quoted Guaido as saying in a series of posts on Twitter.

“The Constitution gives me the legitimacy to exercise the charge of the presidency of the Republic to call elections, but I need the support of the citizens to make it happen,” he said before calling for massive protests on January 23.

The date is significant for Venezuelans as it marks the anniversary of the end of the Marcos Perez Jimenez dictatorship, which ruled the country from 1948-1959. 

The call from the opposition comes a day after Maduro began his new six-year term following a controversial win in a 2018 election that was largely boycotted by the opposition.

Maduro dismissed the National Assembly as a “show of little boys”, telling reporters that while the “crazy and immature minds at the head of the opposition” were holding their demonstration, he was working. 

Iris Valera, Venezuela’s minister for penitentiary affairs, said she already has a cell ready for Guaido.

“I hope you quickly name your cabinet to know who will accompany you,” she said on Twitter on Thursday.

Rising discontent

Friday’s move is the latest in a series of attempts by the National Assembly to dislodge Maduro by legal means, which have so far been unsuccessful.

Under Maduro, the parliament has been stripped of its powers and effectively replaced by the Constituent Assembly, which Maduro has stacked with supporters.

Maduro’s administration does not recognise the National Assembly and vice versa.

“What is happening now is the articulation of competing political forces within the country,” Venezuelan journalist Nayrobis Rodriguez told Al Jazeera.

“The National Assembly’s action will be quick since it is also supported by unions, businesses and social groups […] but it does not have military support and this weakens any attempt to assume the presidency,” she said.

Venezuela’s armed forces renewed their pledge of loyalty to Maduro at a parade following the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday.

A recent survey found 72 percent of Venezuelans wanted Maduro to resign [Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

Public sentiment towards the ruling administration continues to sour as the country’s prolonged economic crisis, which has seen soaring hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine, shows no signs of slowing. 

A recent survey by the country’s most reliable pollster, Datanalisis, found that nearly 72 percent of people wanted Maduro to resign, rather than begin his second term. 

“Popular discontent can be decisive in defining the situation in the country and there is a high probability that citizens will join the protests,” Rodriguez said. “But it is also a population decimated by the diaspora and the fear of the harsh repression exercised by the government against the demonstrators”.

International response

Guaido’s comments have been welcomed by the Organization of American States (OAS), who declared Maduro’s government illegitimate in a special session on Thursday.

“He [Guaido] has our support, that of the international community and the people of Venezuela,” Secretary-General Luis Almagro said in a statement on Twitter.

We welcome the assumption of @jguaido as interim President of #Venezuela in accordance with Article 233 of the Political Constitution. You have our support, that of the international community and of the people of Venezuela #OEAconVzla https://t.co/6MgJtbvMFd
— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) January 11, 2019

The United States, European Union and several Latin American  countries have also refused to recognise Maduro’s government. Peru and Paraguay withdrew their diplomats from Venezuela shortly after the inauguration. 

However, amid the increasing international pressure, Maduro has been courting other allies.

“Russia, China, and Turkey all play crucial roles in propping up the Maduro regime economically. All have investing significantly in the country – Russia recently pledged $5bn to increase Venezuelan oil production, and Turkey has become a major importer of Venezuelan gold,” Max Klaver, senior analyst at Foreign Brief, a geopolitical risk analysis website, told Al Jazeera.

“As long as these three countries continue to back Maduro, there is little the international community  can do to unsettle him without significantly hurting Venezuelan citizens in the process,” Klaver said.

Maduro has been strengthening ties with China, Russia and others [File: Miraflores Palace Handout via Reuters]

Venezuela’s position as a major oil-exporter also reduces the risk of international backlash taking a harsher form than verbal condemnations, despite threats by leaders including US President Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro that military intervention could be an option to remove Maduro. 

“At this point, the international community should look to help Venezuelans who are fleeing the country by providing asylum,” Klaver said.

“Likewise, as long as the military remains loyal to Maduro, which is does through established patronage networks, his ouster will be unlikely.

“Expanding sanctions on high level Venezuelan officials, especially those in the military and political elite to try and shake their loyalty to the regime, would also be feasible measures the international community could take to pressure Maduro without seriously harming Venezuelan citizens”. 

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’ into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years. Richard Moore, who…

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’
into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years.
Richard Moore, who heads the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, is due to make his first public speech since becoming chief of the organisation on Tuesday.
In extracts of the speech released in advance by the British government he will say quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power pose a threat that needs to be addressed by democratic powers.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” Moore, who rarely makes public speeches, will say when he sets out his view of current threats.
The world’s spies are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations, which have dominated espionage for thousands of years.
Moore, a former diplomat, became MI6 chief in October 2020.
Speaking at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies think tank, he will stress that technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all the tech advances made over the past century.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6,” he will say.
Of particular concern to the spies in the world’s liberal democracies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.
Western intelligence agencies fear Beijing could dominate all key emerging technologies within decades, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, which ended the Cold War.
MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carré’s George Smiley to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending the UK and its interests.
Moore says the service will have to give up some of its deep-rooted secrecy and work with technology firms to combat the rapidly developing threats.
MI6 and western intelligence agencies will have to “become more open to stay secret” in a world of destabilising technological change, he will say.
“We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it.”
The agency has become more open in recent years, even allowing publication of an authorised history although it only covers the period up until 1949.
MI6 began publicly naming its chief, who uses the code name C and is the only publicly identifiable member of the organisation, in the 1990s.

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final…

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final stronghold of ISIL (ISIS).
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced the probe on Monday, saying it would be led by General Michael Garrett, the head of US Army Forces Command.
Earlier this month, the US military acknowledged that civilians may have been killed in the bombings in Baghouz, near the Iraqi border in 2019. At the time, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were leading the fight on the ground with American air support.
“Likely a majority of those killed were also combatants at the time of the strike. However, it is also highly likely that there were additional civilian casualties,” Bill Urban, a US military spokesman, said in a statement on November 14.
He added that “investigations were unable to conclusively characterize the status of more than 60 other casualties that resulted from these strikes”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the review into the 2019 US military bombings, the Pentagon spokesman announced [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]Urban’s statement came a day after the New York Times, citing anonymous sources and classified documents,  published a report that accused the US military of concealing the bombings.
The newspaper reported that the bombing struck a “crowd of women and children”, killing 64 people.
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors,” the Times wrote.
On Monday, Kirby said the review would look into “record keeping and reporting procedures” and “whether mitigation measures identified in previous investigations into the incident were in fact implemented effectively”.
The probe, which is due in 90 days, will also assess whether “accountability measures” will be appropriate, Kirby added.
The US-led coalition started a bombing campaign against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and the American military maintains troops in both countries with the stated goal of preventing the group’s resurgence.

Former US President Donald Trump touted the territorial defeat of ISIL (ISIS) as a major policy achievement in his failed 2020 re-election bid.
Rights groups previously accused the US-led coalition of killing civilians during their bombing campaign. A 2019 investigation by Amnesty International, for instance, found that the coalition had killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa, the ISIL (ISIS) group’s former de-facto capital.
The Associated Press news agency reported on Monday that after the New York Times story was published, Austin received a briefing on the Syria bombings from General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.
AP reported that McKenzie’s command said “an initial investigation concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defence in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from ISIL”.
The probe into the Syria bombings comes after the Pentagon admitted in September that a US drone attack previously described as “righteous” by a top general had killed 10 civilians, including children, in Kabul during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But a subsequent internal review by the Pentagon concluded that the bombing did not violate the laws of war or amount to criminal conduct or negligence, prompting outrage.

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians. The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with…

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2021.

In a statement, the IPHRC pointed out that the solidarity day highlighted the urgent need for the global community to recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Palestinian people.

“Today is not only an opportunity for the international community to remember that the question of Palestine remains unresolved, but it is also an opportunity to focus attention on the increasing suffering of the Palestinian people, under the Israeli occupation, and to unify all efforts for assisting them to attain their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination and the right to return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced,” the commission said.

It also expressed grave concerns over the increasing, “range of violations committed by Israel … particularly the recent draconian measures against Palestinian prisoners and detainees as well as the harassment of Sheikh Jarrah (neighborhood of East Jerusalem) families who remain under the threat of eviction from their houses under baseless and illegal arguments.”

The IPHRC statement urged all human rights groups to raise awareness of what it described as “egregious human rights violations” aimed at “separating Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from its original inhabitants, which is yet another vicious attack on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, commission members condemned the recent Israeli designation of six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, a move the IPHRC claimed represented Israel’s misuse of counterterrorism and security legislation to silence opponents and innocent Palestinians.

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions of residents in Jerusalem and other areas was also slammed by the commission.

It added that there was a “need to investigate these abuses by relevant international mechanisms with a view to holding Israel, the occupying power, accountable for violating international human rights and humanitarian laws.”

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