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US hits ‘dictator’ Maduro with sanctions over disputed Venezuela vote

The United States hit Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with direct sanctions on Monday over a disputed and deadly weekend vote that, while consolidating his power, has largely isolated him as the “dictator” of a failing petro-state.

The US measures were unusual in that they targeted a sitting head of state, but their reach was mostly symbolic, freezing any US assets Maduro might have and banning people under US jurisdiction from dealing with him.

“Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters.

Maduro lashed out at the move, saying it smacked of American “imperialism.”

“I will not obey imperial orders. I do not obey foreign governments. I’m a free president,” he said.

Colombia, Mexico, Peru and other nations joined the US in saying they did not recognize the results of Sunday’s election, which appointed a new “Constituent Assembly” superseding Venezuela’s legislative body, the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Maduro’s own attorney general, Luisa Ortega — who broke with him months ago over his policies — also said she would not acknowledge the body, calling it part of the president’s “dictatorial ambition.”

The European Union expressed “preoccupation for the fate of democracy in Venezuela” and said it, too, doubted it could accept the results.

And Britain’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson warned that Venezuela “stands on the brink of disaster.”

“Nicolas Maduro’s government must stop before it is too late,” he said.

However, old allies Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia stood by Maduro, who shrugged off mass protests and a previous round of US sanctions on some of his officials to see through the election.

Cuba, Venezuela’s closest ally, charged that “a well-organized international operation was under way, led from Washington, with the support of the OAS chief, aimed at silencing the voice of the Venezuelan people, and forcing them into submission with attacks and economic sanctions.”

More protests

The National Electoral Council claimed more than 40 percent of Venezuela’s 20 million voters had cast ballots Sunday.

According to the opposition, voter turnout was closer to 12 percent, a figure more aligned with the lack of lines at many polling stations.

Surveys by polling firm Datanalisis showed more than 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the new assembly.

Further protests were called for Monday and beyond, stoking fears that the death toll of 120 people killed in four months of protests against Maduro could rise further.

“I feel awful, frustrated with this fraud,” said Caracas resident Giancarlo Fernandez, 35.

Demonstrators defied a ban on protests set by Maduro that threatened up to 10 years in prison for violators.

Ten people died in violence surrounding Sunday’s election, which saw security forces fire tear gas and, in some cases, live ammunition to put down protests. Among those killed were two teens and a Venezuelan soldier.

Boycotted by the opposition, and voted for largely by state employees fearful for their jobs, the Constituent Assembly was made up solely of members of Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party.

Tasked with writing a new constitution, it has far-reaching powers — including the right to dissolve the National Assembly and change laws.

It is due to be installed on Wednesday.

More sanctions?

The European Union condemned the “excessive and disproportionate use of force” by Venezuelan police and troops on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: “A Constituent Assembly, elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances, cannot be part of the solution.”

Russia, however, threw its weight behind Maduro and the election, backing the government turnout figure.

The foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement it hopes countries “who apparently want to increase economic pressure on Caracas will display restraint and abandon their destructive plans.”

Yet analysts agreed that Maduro’s move had swept away any vestige of democracy in Venezuela.

“Maduro’s blatant power grab removes any ambiguity about whether Venezuela is a democracy,” said Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue research center.

Eduardo Rios Ludena, a Venezuela specialist at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, said Maduro had “sacrificed democracy.”

“In the short term, the Constituent Assembly gives a bit of breathing space to the government,” he conceded, though adding that grave economic consequences would follow.

Venezuela’s 30 million citizens are suffering through shortages of basic goods.

Sanctions against the all-important oil sector would worsen their situation, but could also destabilize the government, which is frenziedly printing money and running out of foreign currency reserves.

Courtesy AFP

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‘Disturbing’ sexual harassment at Australian universities, study reveals

SYDNEY (AFP): More than half of university students in Australia were sexually harassed last year and seven percent sexually assaulted on at least one occasion, a “disturbing” new national study revealed Tuesday.

The findings came in an Australian Human Rights Commission report, conducted on behalf of the country´s 39 universities that questioned more than 30,000 students, after years of activism by women´s groups to discover the extent of the problem.

Women were three times as likely as men to be sexually assaulted and almost twice as likely to be sexually harassed, either on-campus, travelling to and from the university or at off-campus events endorsed by the institution.

“The unavoidable conclusion of the data… is that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment are occurring at unacceptable rates at Australian universities,” said Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

“While anybody can experience sexual assault or sexual harassment, it is clear from the data that women at university experience these behaviours at disproportionately higher rates than men.

“This adds weight to the body of evidence that highlights disturbing rates of sexual violence against women in Australia.”

The report said almost a third of the harassment occurred on university grounds or in teaching spaces, while one in five of the assaults happened at a university or residence social event.

Australian universities, which have more than one million pupils enrolled, are hugely popular with international students, particularly from China and India.

Many of those affected — including international students — did not formally report the incident, with the vast majority saying their university did not do enough to provide clear direction on what to do and where to seek support.

“It broke my heart to read this report,” Sophie Johnston, from the National Union of Students, told reporters. “This is a cultural battle we are fighting everywhere.”

The report made nine recommendations, including the need to change attitudes and behaviour and to ensure an independent and systemic review of how universities respond.

Universities Australia, the body representing the country´s university sector, immediately announced a 10-point plan to tackle the issue.

This included a 24/7 support line, new training for staff to recognise and deal with the problem, and a commitment to a follow-up survey to track progress.

“We send a strong and clear message today that these behaviours are not acceptable. Not on our campuses — and not in Australian society,” Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner said.

“We have listened, and we will act.”


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Abdul Basit rejects Indian allegations against Hurriyat leadership

DELHI: Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit, in an interview to Indian media, has rejected all allegations of funding the Hurriyat leadership.

Basit, in an interview to India Today, said he termed all the allegations regarding the Hurriyat, involving tapes and terror funding, false, adding, “…this is not the first time that we have seen such allegations against the Hurriyat leadership. Such allegations were made in the past as well but nobody could substantiate or prove them. I’m confident this time too that all these allegations would disappear, dissipate”, he added.

He rubbished all charges by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) against the Kashmiri people saying that these were attempts to ‘malign’ them and that there is no truth to the allegations.

In response to a question by the Indian media outlet, Basit said it is unfair to say that Pakistan is being colonised by China.

He described China and Pakistan as “very close friends.”

Basit responded to a question about the Supreme Court’s ruling that disqualified Nawaz Sharif from holding any public office by saying, “This only reflects that democracy is finally taking root in Pakistan. Sharif went through a judicial process and tomorrow we will have a new prime minister elected. Democracy seems to be strengthening by the day.”

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20 million hepatitis patients in Pakistan: WHO

F.P. Report

PESHAWAR: World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed that aroud 20 million people in Pakistan were infected of Hepatitus vuris and these were numbers were quite alarming.

Vaccination for the disease is available in the market but most of the patients were living in poverty and they cannot afford the complete course of vaccination. It is one of the most deadly disease but by taking some precuationary steps, people can easily minimize the risk by getting infection of this disease and these steps were destroying the syringe after using, avoid adulterated blood tranfusion, make sure the use of sterilized surgical instruments. The repor suggested that people must take steps for stopping the hepatitus in the country because slowly but surely destroying the health of our love ones.

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Modi steps up assault on opponents

NEW DELHI (REUTERS): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling alliance is stepping up its assault on the opposition Congress party as it looks to expand its national dominance and moves closer to securing a majority in the upper house of parliament.

Modi won the biggest mandate in 30 years in the 2014 general election, giving him control of the lower house. But his nationalist coalition still lacks a majority in the upper house that represents India’s 29 states and has proven to be a stumbling block for its legislative agenda.

His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been chipping away at that problem. It recently won the backing of some opposition lawmakers to secure the election of its candidate Ram Nath Kovind as president.

The party also joined a coalition in the big northern state of Bihar, in the process demolishing an opposition alliance that had dealt it its only major election defeat since 2014. With Bihar, Modi gained 10 more upper-house seats.

That brings his nationalist alliance’s tally to 89 seats – still short of, but increasingly within reach of, a simple majority of 123 seats. Now, the BJP has turned its attention to a fight that could increase its strength in the upper house and deal Congress another blow.

BJP President Amit Shah and another Modi loyalist are running for re-election to the upper house from Gujarat, the prime minister’s western home state. They are also aiming for a third seat from the state, held by Ahmed Patel, Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s closest aide, for the past 24 years.

Wresting away Patel’s seat could finally consign to the history books an era in which the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of the Congress party produced three Indian prime ministers.

“If her main man can’t get the support of Congress, it means that Sonia Gandhi’s grip over the party is gone,” Rajdeep Sardesai, a leading television anchor and Modi biographer, told Reuters.

Patel was not available for comment.

“The results of the Gujarat election will prove that Congress is broken, dismantled and they have nothing to offer to their members and to the country,” said Bhupender Yadav, the BJP’s national general secretary.

“We are in the best possible scenario.”

Half a dozen Congress lawmakers from the state have defected ahead of the Aug 8 vote in which they will elect three upper house members.

In response, the Congress evacuated more than 40 of its lawmakers from Gujarat to a golf hotel outside the southern city of Bengaluru.

They are at the Eagleton country club, which bills itself “a luxury country club and world-class resort”.

Shankar Sinh Vagela, one defector, derided Congress as a “rudderless ship” unable to win elections.

“Discontent has been simmering for a long time, but no one from Congress headquarters was paying attention,” he said. Responding, Congress spokesman Shaktisinh Gohil said the BJP doesn’t “realise that this is a battle of ideology”.



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Actor, playwright Sam Shepard passes away

Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor whose celebrated career spanned nearly five decades, has died, a family spokesman said. He was 73.

Shepard died at home in Kentucky on Thursday of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, the spokesman confirmed to AFP.

Shepard, who wrote nearly 50 plays, won the Pulitzer for drama in 1979 for his play “Buried Child” and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1984 for best actor in a supporting role for “The Right Stuff”.

One of his most recent roles was in the Netflix television series “Bloodline”. Shepard was with his family at the time of his death. Funeral arrangements remain private, and plans for a public memorial have not yet been determined.

“The family requests privacy at this difficult time”, said the spokesman for the family, Chris Boneau. Born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois in 1943, Shepard was the son of a teacher mother and Army officer father, who was a bomber pilot during World War II.

Shepard had a nomadic early childhood, moving from base to base around the country before graduating from high school in Duarte, California. He started acting and writing while still in high school, and spent a year studying agriculture before joining a traveling theatre company and later moving to New York, where he began writing plays.

Courtesy: AFP