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Rival protests held in Venezuela as pressure mounts on Maduro

Thousands of anti-government protesters are marching across Venezuela on Wednesday to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, as Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s interim president.  Government supporters held counter-rallies for Maduro, who who was recently sworn in for a controversial second term.  But Guaido swore himself in on Wednesday, claiming that Maduro’s presidency was…

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Rival protests held in Venezuela as pressure mounts on Maduro

Thousands of anti-government protesters are marching across Venezuela on Wednesday to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, as Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s interim president. 

Government supporters held counter-rallies for Maduro, who who was recently sworn in for a controversial second term. 

But Guaido swore himself in on Wednesday, claiming that Maduro’s presidency was illegitimate and that, as leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Guaido would serve as interim president. 

US President Donald Trump and the Organization of American States (OAS) recognised Guaido as acting president, and a Canadian official told Reuters that Ottowa would soon follow suit. 

“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant” Trump said.

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he added.

The anti-government protests are a crucial test for the country’s re-invigorated opposition and the National Assembly, which it controls.

Last week, the body declared Maduro a “usurper”, but the Supreme Court nullified that legislation, disavowing Guaido as the National Assembly’s leader. 

Wednesday’s protests come on the heels of demonstrations late on Tuesday in at least 60 working-class neighbourhoods around the country. Residents burned rubbish and clashed with security forces, echoing the violent street demonstrations that took place two years ago, a local rights group said.

At least four people were killed, including a 16-year-old boy who was shot in the abdomen, according to Venezuela’s Observatory of Social Conflict. 

Energised opposition

The opposition has been energised by Guaido and the harsh international reception of Maduro’s second term, widely condemned as illegitimate.

“The opposition has had serious internal conflicts, although, in 2015, it won the National Assembly, they have not shown cohesion,” Professor Ramon Pinango, a sociologist from the Venezuelan University of IESA told Al Jazeera. 

“However, very recently, as recently as the last weeks, it seems they have reached an agreement, and the Assembly has regained its power,” he added.

“The regime is harassed, and every time their political spectrum is getting reduced, the international pressure is strong.”   

But any change in government will rest on a shift in allegiance within the armed forces. They have stood by Maduro through two waves of street protests. 

Guaido, 35, has called for the military to disavow Maduro and promised amnesty for people who back him. He has strived for military support and vowed to oversee free elections. 

Addressing members of the military on Monday, he said, “We’re not asking you to stage a coup d’etat, we’re not asking you to shoot. We’re asking you not to shoot at us.”

Guaido would provide legal protection to soldiers and officials who defected if he became president, he told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday, although “there would have to be justice for those that have done bad things”. 

Rachid Yasbek, a member of the opposition, also appealed to the military. 

“All military men or women has a family, all of them are also facing the conditions we are facing,” Yasbek told Al Jazeera.

“We are making a call to the higher ranks, we are asking them to stand with the people,” he added. 

However, there are few signs that indicate the military is prepared to abandon Maduro. 

“The military leadership is faithful to Maduro and will continue to be until he’s gone,” one active duty high-ranking military officer told Reuters news agency.

‘I’m tired of repression’

Maduro accuses the United States and other countries of waging an “economic war” to force him from power.

Diosdado Cabello, head of the constitutional assembly, accused Venezuela’s opposition of being on a mission to “threaten and cause terror”.

Government supporters also accuse the opposition of trying to bring conflict to the country. 

“The opposition is trying to raise the level of conflict, so that the government falls into the trap and uses police forces, then the international community could have an excuse to execute an intervention,” Juan Romero, an analyst and government supporter told Al Jazeera. 

But opposition supporters say they are tired of the current situation.

“I’m tired of repression. I want to see my country in better conditions,” said 22-year-old Javier Pineda, a physiotherapy student, in Caracas. 

“In the hospitals there is nothing, there are no supplies for treatments that are simple, there are no stretchers. We attend people on the floor,” he told Al Jazeera. “Today I protest with nostalgia and emotion, with faith and with strength, because I trust that there is a better Venezuela.” 

Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

‘Go home’

Wednesday’s march, an annual event that commemorates the 61st anniversary of the fall of a military dictatorship, is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people. The ruling Socialist Party is holding a rival march, and officials have threatened to jail Guaido.

US Vice President Mike Pence issued a message of support to Venezuelans opposing the government on Tuesday, promising support for Guaido and branding Maduro a “dictator with no legitimate claim to power”.

“Yankee, go home,” Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez told a news conference in response.

She denounced “the perverse plans of Venezuela’s extreme right to endanger stability and peace”.

The pro-government Supreme Court, which annulled the powers of the congress in 2017, ruled on Monday not to recognise Guaido as its head and asked the state prosecutor’s office to determine whether he had committed a crime.

Maduro, who was inaugurated on January 10 following a 2018 election widely viewed as a sham, has presided over Venezuela’s spiral into its worst-ever economic crisis, with inflation forecast to reach 10 million percent this year.

With additional reporting from Alicia Hernandez in Caracas and Elizabeth Melimopoulos in Doha. 

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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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