Jos Abreu, founder of Venezuelan El Sistema youth orchestras, dies

Globally acclaimed project has saved thousands of Venezuelan children from crime and poverty

Jose Abreu, the award-winning founder of a project that saved thousands of Venezuelan children from crime and poverty through music, has died aged 78.

Abreu founded the globally acclaimed El Sistema, or The System, in 1975 in a garage with nine musicians. From that, the network spreading to 300 choirs and orchestras that received awards from the Royal Swedish Academy and Unesco.

” With dedicated love and eternal gratitude to my mentor and father of El Sistema ,” tweeted Gustavo Dudamel, the Venezuelan conductor and director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, alongside a photo of himself with Abreu, who died on Saturday.

Abreu was born on 7 May 1939 in the smaller Andean city of Valera. He began his musical examines aged nine and moved to Caracas to study composition.

” Abreu has given life to a musical system with which young people can be safe from the dangers of the street, of crime, of drugs ,” said Simon Rattle, the director of the Berlin Philharmonic, according to the El Sistema website.

Abreu’s model has been followed by other Latin American countries as well as some in Europe.

Dudamel has become the public face of El Sistema in recent years, often conducting free concerts in the grimy downtown region of Caracas.

He has spoken out strongly in support of anti-government protests that last year rocked Venezuela for four months, leaving more than 120 people dead, including an 18 -year-old musician from the Venezuela National Youth Orchestra.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, said on state television:” We are deeply moved by the physical departure of maestro Abreu .”

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Thirty countries use ‘armies of opinion shapers’ to manipulate democracy report

Governments in Venezuela, the Philippines, Turkey and elsewhere use social media to influence elections, drive agendas and counter critics, says report

The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows.

Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House.

” Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, injury citizens’ ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate ,” the US government-funded charity said.” Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power .”

Even in those countries that didn’t have elections in the last year, social media manipulation was still frequent. Of the 65 countries surveyed, 30, including Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey, were found to be using” armies of opinion shapers” to” spread government opinions, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media”, according to Freedom House’s new Freedom on the Net report. In each of the 30 countries it saw” strong indications that individuals are paid to distort the digital information scenery in the government’s favor, without acknowledging sponsorship “.

That number has risen every year since the first is present in 2009. In 2016, merely 23 countries were found to be using the same kind of pro-government “astroturfing”( a fake grassroots movement ). Recently” the practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated, with bots, propaganda producers, and fake news outlets exploiting social media and search algorithms to ensure high visibility and seamless integration with trusted content ,” the report says.

” The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating … By bolstering the false perception that most citizens stand with them, authorities are able to justify crackdowns on the political opposition and advance anti-democratic changes to laws and institutions without a proper debate .”

The report describes the differed forms this manipulation takes. In the Philippines, it is shown as a” keyboard army” paid $10 a day to operate fake social media accounts, which supported Rodrigo Duterte in the run-up to his election last year, and backed his crackdown on the drug trade this year. Turkey’s ruling party enlisted 6,000 people to manipulate discussions, drive agendas and counter foes. The government of Sudan’s approach is more direct: a division within the country’s intelligence service generated fake accounts to fabricate is supportive of government policies and denounce critical journalists.

” Governments are now using social media to suppress disagreement and advance an anti-democratic agenda ,” said Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project.” Not merely is this manipulation difficult to see, it is more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it’s dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it .”

” The fabrication of grassroots is supportive of government policies on social media generates a closed loop in which the regime essentially endorses itself, leaving independent groups and ordinary citizens on the outside ,” Kelly said.

‘Way too little, style too late ‘: Facebook’s factcheckers say endeavour is failing

Donald Trump threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea in UN speech

President chastises a small group of rascal regimes and says Iran nuclear bargain an shame to the United States

Donald Trump has threatened to” totally destroy” North Korea, in a bellicose first address to the United nations organization general assembly in which he lashed out at a litany of US adversaries and called on “righteous” countries to confront them.

The speech was greeted in the UN chamber mostly with stillnes and occasional outbreaks of disapproving murmurs, as Trump chastised a succession of hostile regimes.

In an address heavy with echoes of George W Bush’s” Axis of Evil” State of the Union address more than 15 years earlier, Trump said:” The scourge of our planet today are a small group of rascal regimes.

” If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph ,” the president said.

He first singled out North Korea, recounting its history of kidnapping, persecution, and missile and nuclear tests.

” The US has great strength and patience ,” Trump said. But he added:” If it is forced to defend ourselves or our friends, we will have no choice but to altogether destroy North Korea .”

As alarmed murmurs spread around the hallway, Trump had another barb. Utilizing his newly adopted epithet for Kim Jong-un, Trump said:” Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime .”

He said the US was ” ready, willing and able” to take military action, but said hopefully that would be unnecessary if the rest of the world stepped up its endeavour to hold the Pyongyang regime.

” That is what the United Nations is for ,” the president said.” Let’s see how they do .”

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Trump’s combative first speech to the UN general assembly- video highlightings

Trump moved on to Iran, claiming that the Islamic Republic had robbed a great people of its destiny.

” The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most ,” he said, adding that the working day would come when the Iranian people would be faced with a option between” the path of poverty, bloodshed and terror” and their country’s” proud roots as a center of civilisation, culture, and wealth “.

Trump said the Iran nuclear bargain, signed by the US under the Obama administration with five other countries two years ago, was ” one of the most serious and most one-sided transactions the United States has in the past entered into “.

” Frankly, that deal is an shame to the United States ,” he said.” I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it- believe me .”

Trump must decide by 15 October on whether to certify Iranian conformity or not. His threatened withdrawal of presidential endorsement could lead to Congress reimposing nuclear-related sanctions and the collapse of the agreement.

Like much of the 41 -minute speech, Trump’s reference to the Iran deal was met by stony silence. The deal is overwhelmingly been endorsed by UN member states, including the majority of members of Washington’s closest allies.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, also stimulating his UN debut, said he had offered to discuss further constraints on Iranian missile developing and curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme after 2025, when important elements of the 2015 bargain expire. But Macron warned that if the existing bargain was abandoned it would lead only to a “no man’s land”, a nuclear arms race and a situation as serious as the North Korean crisis.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded with a tweet, saying Trump’s” ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times- not the 21 st Century UN” and adding that it was ” unworthy of a reply “.” Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one ,” he said.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was one of the few to applaud when the US president said the world could not abide by the Iran agreement” if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear programme “.

Netanyahu swiftly issued a statement praising Trump.” In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech ,” Netanyahu said.” President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity .”

Trump is also almost entirely isolated on climate change. Unlike the other opening speakers, including the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, Trump constructed no mention in his speech of an issue that most other leaders in the chamber consider to be the greatest threat to the world.

When his turn to speak came, Macron insisted that though the Paris climate accord, which Trump said he would leave, could be improved,” it will not be renegotiated “. He said he” profoundly respected” the US decision but said ” the door will always be open to them “.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu( centre ), was one of the few to praise the US president’s stance on the Iran nuclear bargain. Photo: UPI/ Barcroft Images

The US president had clearly not come to the UN in the mood to placate foreign leaders, but instead to speak over their heads to his own supporters.

He picked out one antagonist after another, pointing out that he had taken steps to reverse Barack Obama’s policy of detente with Cuba. But he dedicated much more of his speech to a rigorous denunciation of the government of Nicolas Maduro, which he said was strangling Venezuela through “faithfully implemented” socialism.

Trump vowed to help the Venezuelan people” regain their liberty, regain their country and restore their democracy “.

The US has already imposed severe imposing sanctions on the Maduro government and Trump said Washington was ready to take” farther action” if the regime” persists on its path to enforce authoritarian rule “.

The Venezuelan foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, said Trump’s remarks were” sad for the world” and said the US president had spoken like a general at the head of an invading army.

” We do not accept threats from President Trump or whoever in the world ,” Arreaza said.” We are … peaceful people and we want relations of mutual respect .”

Maduro, who did not attend the UN gathering, reacted angrily from Caracas, calling the US president’s speech an” aggression from the new Hitler of international politics, Mr Donald Trump, against the people of Venezuela “.

Attacks on other governments took up much of the second half of Trump’s speech. The first half was allocated to outlining his view of international relations, which he repeatedly said should be based on” strong sovereign nations” with different cultures and values.

Trump’s argument against humanitarian intervention and “nation-building” is an approach favoured by Russia, China and much of the Non-Aligned Movement.

” As president of the United States ,” he said,” I will set America first, just as you as leaders of your countries will always put your countries first .”

It was one of the few lines that drew significant applause. Trump did not explain how that sentiment squared with the second part of his address, in which he called for action against” rascal regimes” for their lack of democracy.

Angelique Chrisafis contributed to this report from Paris

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Downward spiral: how Venezuelas symbol of progress became political prisoners hell

The dizzying spiraling structure in central Caracas was conceived in the 1950 s as a monument to a nations confidence but now its disintegrating shell homes a notorious political prison. Is El Helicoide a metaphor for modern Venezuela?

Spiralling up a hill in the heart of Caracas is a playful, ambitious building that once represented Venezuela’s dreams of modernity, power and influence, and was feted by Salvador Dali and Pablo Neruda.

Today, its crumbling concrete shell houses the headquarters of Venezuela’s intelligence services and the country’s most notorious political prison. It has become a symbol of national disintegrate, bankrupt dreams and faltering democracy.

Slums on the surrounding slopes obscure the aging Buckminster Fuller dome that tops its elegant coils, but the building can still be seen from around the capital, and casts a long darknes of fear.

El Helicoide in front of San Agustin barrio. Photograph: Pietro Paolini/ TerraProject

El Helicoide- as it was named in a nod to the geometry that inspired it- was conceived in the early 1950 s as a shopping mall that would exemplify Venezuela’s wealth and confidence. Its curving lines are created by more than two miles of ramps in an interlocking helix, designed as a modern take on the high street.

The design included space for 300 boutiques, and parking spaces for each. There were also plans for a hotel and galleries. But the building was never finished, and the stores never opened. Instead, regions earmarked for the sale of luxury goods were turned first into shelters for the homeless, then prison cells, police headquarters and eventually even torture chambers, described by former inmates as “hell on earth”.

The planned interior. Photograph: Archivo Fotografia Urbana/ Proyecto Helicoide

Several Venezuelan governments tried to remake El Helicoide as a museum or cultural centre, but all the efforts ended in failure. Its cells have never been as mobbed as they are today, after months of street protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro that often turned violent. Support for his government has collapsed in the face of severe shortages of food and medication, hyper-inflation and spiralling violence.

The president blames foreign sabotage for the country’s problems, even though Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves, and he has responded to the unrest by jailing and blacklisting foes, convening a legislative super-assembly to sideline the opponent controlled parliament, and even openly flirting with ” becoming a dictator to insure costs for the people “~ ATAGEND.

Celeste Olalquiaga, a culture historian who grew up in Caracas, said:” El Helicoide is a metaphor for the whole modern period in Venezuela and what went wrong .” She has launched a project to document its extraordinary history and a book about the mall-turned jail.

The transformation from icon of Venezuela’s hopes to emblem of failing and repression was slow and complicated. It began with a coup, stretched over decades of totalitarianism and democracy, through the rule of 14 presidents and several cycles of petroleum boom and bust. Someone go looking for bad omen might have found one in the name of the hill where it’s constructed, Roca Tarpeya; the Tarpeian Rock was an execution ground in ancient Rome.

Construction on Roca Tarpeya, in about 1956. Photos: Archivo Fotografia Urbana/ Proyecto Helicoide

But after the project was unveiled in 1955, the first years of planning and building were ones of steady the successes and optimism. El Helicoide was so internationally celebrated that it was praised by Neruda, and Dali reportedly offered to help decorate the interior. But a 1958 coup that deposed the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez from power swept away dreams for the mall along with much else.

El Helicoide was actually a private project, but Perez Jimenez had become so famous for his grandiose building plans that most Venezuelans presumed the dizzying mall was a country attempt. As the country tried to move on from his brutal regulation, everything associated with the ex-president was tainted- and that included El Helicoide. Without funding or subsistence, the project collapsed and the near-finished house sat empty for years.

Meanwhile, Caracas was changing around it. Wealthy residents of the city moved east, and slums expanded south, until they all but engulfed El Helicoide.

The concrete shell, poured but never finished, became embroiled in legal action between the developers, the government and store owners who had made downpayments to purchase their space. Eventually in 1975 it comes down under government control.

El Helicoide abandoned, 1968. Photograph: Paolo Gasparini

The lead Venezuelan designer Jorge Romero Gutierrez had sunk so much of his once considerable fortune into it that its failing all but bankrupted him. It also damaged his reputation and destroyed his spirit, said Alberto Sato, an architect and prof based in Chile.

Sato tracked down Romero- a personal hero of his- where reference is first came to Venezuela in the 1970 s. He detected a human bankrupted and broken by El Helicoide’s failure, who had largely abandoned architecture.

That was his country’s loss, says Sato.” He was a type of madman, unbelievably visionary ,” pointing out that El Helicoide is one of the few Caracas builds distinctive enough to identify easily from the air.” I think that he was one of the most important point architects of the 1950 s in Venezuela, but his work wasn’t treated as it deserved .”

The building’s first permanent occupants did not move in until the mid-1 970 s, and could hardly have been further from original visions. When landslides swept away swathes of a nearby township, the government moved five hundred newly homeless families into temporary shelters on the ramps.

Conditions is very much basic: neither energy nor water supplies had ever been installed, and so the building offered little more than protection from the elements.

But that was attraction enough though for those who had lost everything, and before long, 2,000 households- 10,000 people- were crammed into the ramps, said Olalquiaga. Conditions were grim, and it soon became a centre for drug trafficking, prostitution and crime.

In 1982, the families were cleared out, and Sato worked on a project to turn El Helicoide into a cultural centre. Romero wanted little to do with the building that had ruined his reputation.

” He was too old, too tired, to have any real hope. I remember him saying’ It’s cursed, you are not going to be able to do anything there ,'” Sato said.

El Helicoide is’ very anti-climactic, like a building equivalent of the Wizard of Oz ‘, says Celeste Olalquiaga, who was allowed inside on a visit. Photo: Cristobal Alvarado Minic/ Getty

Romero turned out to be correct, at the least as far as Sato’s project was concerned. After a change of government in 1984 and a foreign currency crisis, El Helicoide slipped back into disuse. Frets about squatters returning, the governmental forces moved the secret police in the next year.

Different iterations of the intelligence and security forces have been based in the building ever since 1985, with top floors serving as offices and the lower two as a incarcerate. The cells are tiny and cramped, partly because of the deceptive nature of the building itself. It may look like a futuristic cruise liner, but most of its bulk comes from the hill that defines its basic sort. The actual build is no more than the ramps spiralling up to the summit and back down.

” When you visit El Helicoide you realise that between the rock, which takes most of the centre of the site, and the ramps, there is very little useable space ,” said Olalquiaga, who was allowed inside on a visit in 2015.

” It’s very anti-climactic, like a build equivalent of the Wizard of Oz. From outside you insure a huge thing, but from inside you see that it’s kind of small ,” she said.” I call it a living ruin as it’s semi-abandoned .”

Even the indefatigable populist chairperson Hugo Chavez was defeated by El Helicoide, which he described as both “cursed” and “very important”. At one point he ordered the intelligence services to leave and promised to turn the ramps into a social centre, but the officers and their prisoners never did depart and the grand project never materialised.

A protester takes aim at riot police during anti-government protests in Caracas, May 2017. Photograph: Cristian Hernandez/ EPA

There are no records of who was incarcerated in the early years. The first human known to have been held for his views was an astrologer, Jose Bernardo Gomez. He was apprehended the 1990 s for forecasting the impending death of the country’s then chairperson, Rafael Caldera( who was then in his late 70 s)- a crime that seems almost as strange as the building where he was held.

” I was held prisoner at El Helicoide 21 years ago ,” said Gomez, who is still reading the stars.” In those years the government( the president) reacted in this way because I had shared my astrological reads at a private event for businessmen .”( On his release in 1996, El Nacional newspaper quoted Gomez defiantly clinging to his reasons for watching mortality in the alignment of Pluto, Uranus, Mars and the comet Chiron, though Caldera lived on until 2009.)

Since then, hundreds of others have followed in Gomez’s footsteps, including both regular captives and those locked up for their political views.

Rosmit Mantilla, an LGBT activist and opponent legislator, said:” The Helicoide is the centre of torture in Venezuela. It’s a hell on earth .” Desginated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty, he spent two and a half years jailed in the building.

He suffered psychological torment and physical abuse, but believes he was spared the most extreme torturing thanks to an international campaign for his release. He decided to compile a record of what he saw and heard from fellow prisoners, and has worked to raise awareness since his own release in November last year.

He describes a routine of overcrowding and malnutrition, psychological pressure and sparse rations as universal. Some endured worse treatment.

Stamps commemorating the 38 th anniversary of DISIP( National Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services) in 2007. Photo: Archivo Fotografia Urbana/ Proyecto Helicoide

” There are at least three rooms used for torture, and we couldn’t sleep because we would hear the hollers all night: people who would appear and disappear ,” he said.

Prisoners include both men and women, maintained on separate floors. Torments reported to Mantilla include people being beaten, electrocuted, hung by their extremities, forced into stress positions and forced to plunge their face into a bag of faeces and breathe in.

Problems of overcrowding are now far worse. After months of political upheaval and street protests, there are currently thought to be more than 300 people crammed into cells that already felt mobbed with 80, according to the campaign group Una Ventana a la Libertad( A Window on Freedom ).

El Helicoide makes an unusually high-profile prison for political detainees: a landmark building visible from across the city. But the secret police are so unambiguously proud of their unique headquarters that in 2007 they issued a series of stamps to celebrate it.

The fate of El Helicoide- constructed amid dreamings of prosperity, but now in a state of slow disintegrate- reflects Venezuela’s recent history. Spellbound by the promise of easy petroleum wealth, the country’s leaders focused on gleaming trophies and forgot the people they ruled, most of whom are still living in desperate poverty.

Olalquiaga still hopes the building can be rescued from disintegration and its grim new reputation, by a government more dedicated to serving its people than controlling them.” What should happen is the one thing which has never happened, the communities that surround it should be asked what they want ,” she said.” El Helicoide has suffered for all kinds of reasons, and it is unable to and should be re-purposed. I don’t think the situation is doomed .”

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Trump threatens ‘military option’ in Venezuela as crisis escalates

In a surprise intervention, Donald Trump said he would not rule in employing military force as the country descends further into civil unrest

Donald Trump threatened a US military intervention in Venezuela on Friday, a dramatic escalation in his administrations stance toward the Latin American country which is descending into political chaos.

Trump stimulated the statements in response to questions from reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Asked what options were available for the US in dealing with Venezuela, which has descended into civil unrest under the direction of chairwoman Nichols Maduro, Trump responded by explicitly not ruling out military force.

We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, Im not going to rule out a military alternative, he said.

We have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbour, Trump added. Were all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and succumbing. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military alternative if necessary.

Vladimir Padrino, Venezuelas defence minister, said on Friday night that Trumps threat was an act of craziness and supreme extremism.

General Vladimir Padrino, a close ally of Maduro, said: With this radical upper-class thats in charge in the US, who knows what will happen to the world?

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, tweeted: Perhaps since[ Hugo] Chvez named him his successor , no one had helped Maduro as much as Trump and this nonsense he said today.

The White House released a statement saying it had repudiated a request from Maduro to speak by phone with Trump. The statement said: Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as republic is restored in that country.

The surprise intervention caps a week of increasingly bellicose rhetoric directed at North Korea.

Venezuela has appeared to slide toward a more volatile stage of unrest in recent days, with anti-government forces-out looting weapons from the military after the installation of an all-powerful new legislative body.

Donald Trump speaks to the press from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Photograph: Jim Watson/ AFP/ Getty Images

When a reporter followed up to ask Trump if this military alternative would be US led, the president responded: We dont talking here it. A military operation, a military option is surely something that we could pursue.

The remarks come as Maduro has convened a constituent assembly, in an electoral widely denounced by international observers, to amend the countrys constitution to cement his grip on power. Maduro has also forced the countrys chief prosecutor from office, while the United Nation has condemned the governmental forces employ of excessive force against protestors.

Although Venezuela has the worlds largest proven oil reserves, its economy has collapsed in recent years as the country led first by the late Hugo Chvez and then by his successor, Maduro, has resorted to increasingly authoritarian measures to consolidate power.

Peru expelled Venezuelas ambassador on Friday as regional pressure built on Maduros government. Venezuela retaliated by ordering the head of Perus embassy in Caracas to leave and called Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski an enemy of Venezuela and of Latin American unity.

Trumps remarks come in the shadow of a 2002 coup try against Chvez that he blamed on the US. The coup was launched after a violent showdown between marchers in support of a general strike clashed with government forces.

Associated Press contributed to this report .

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Not so fast: Despacito singers tell Nicols Maduro to stop using remixed song

Venezuelan chairpeople attempt to co-opt the global hit for political purposes backfires with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee calling the use illegal

Venezuelan president Nicols Maduros attempt to use Latin reached Despacito – which means slowly to inject some cool into his controversial new congress has backfired quickly.

Maduros unpopular leftist government on Sunday promoted a remixed version of Despacito to encourage Venezuelans to vote for the Constituent Assembly, which will have powers to rewrite “the member states national” charter and supplant other institutions.

Our call to the Constituent Assembly only seeks to unite the country … Despacito! runs the Socialist Party-sanctioned remix of the catchy dance sung, which was played during Maduros weekly televised show.

What do you think, eh? Is this video approved? a grinning and clapping Maduro called out to the crowd, which roared back in approval.

But Puerto Rican singers Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on Monday said they do not approve at all.

At no phase was I asked , nor did I permit, the use or the altered in lyrics of Despacito for political ambitions, and much less in the middle of a deplorable situation that Venezuela, a country I love so much, is living, Fonsi said in a message posted on Twitter.

Daddy Yankee, meanwhile, posted a picture of Maduro with a big red cross over it on Instagram.


That you illegally appropriate a anthem( Despacito) does not compare with the crimes you commit and have committed in Venezuela. Your dictatorial regime is a gag , not only for my Venezuelan brother, but for the entire world, he said.

With this nefarious marketing plan, you merely highlight your fascist ideal.

Millions of Venezuelans have been staging months of protests against Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader narrowly elected to replace the late Hugo Chavez in 2013.

Some 100 people have died in the unrest, which has further hammered an imploding economy that is running short of food and medicine.

Critics tell Maduro is trying to cement a tyranny by pushing forward with the Constituent Assembly this Sunday. He tells it is the only way to bringing peace back to the convulsed nation.

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‘I will be back’: Violin-playing face of Venezuela’s protests injured in clashes

Wuilly Arteaga posts defiant video message from hospital bed as opposition announces fresh national strikes

Venezuelas opposition announced a two-day national strike against President Nicolas Maduro after a day of violent clashes in Caracas on Saturday where the injured included a violinist who has become the face of the protests.

Neither rubber bullets nor pellets will stop our fight for Venezuelas independence, told musician Wuilly Arteaga. The 23 -year-old has become famous in Venezuela for playing the national anthem and other tunes on his violin in front of security lines as battles rage around him. Tomorrow I will be back in the streets.

The opponent Democratic Coalition which organised a 24-hour shutdown this week that was heeded by millions and paralysed big swaths of the South American nation said the next strike would be on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mass processions have been planned for Monday and Friday in an attempt to force Maduro into aborting a controversial a vote on 30 July to elect a constituent assembly charged with rewriting the constitution.

WuillyMoissArteaga (@ WuillyArteaga)

( Video) Ni PERDIGONES NI METRAS nos detendrn de seguir luchando hasta lograr la INDEPENDENCIA DE VENEZUELA. Maana vuelvo a las CALLES … aZHnmv7Hgt

July 22, 2017

Opposition and human rights groups say the move is aimed at bypassing the National Assembly, which has been under opposition control since 2016, further consolidating the ruling Socialist partys grip on power. Maduro argues a new constitution would promote dialogue in a country deeply polarised and crippled by widespread shortages of food, medication and basic services, and unbridled violent crime.

On Saturday, several thousand protesters sought to march on the pro-Maduro supreme court in support of alternative magistrates appointed by the opponent on Friday. Security forces-out blocked them with armored autoes and riot shields. Clashes ensued for several hours as hundreds of masked youths hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at National Guard troops firing tear gas from motorcycles.

The injured included Arteaga, who was treated by paramedics in the street as blood poured down his face. He afterwards tweeted a video from hospital with a bandaged face, still clutching his violin.

More than 100 people have died and thousands more have been injured in anti-government unrest since demonstrations began in April.

Opposition lawmaker Simon Calzadilla told at a press conference flanked by other alliance officials: The Venezuelan people are not giving up, they are valiant, they will come out to defend republic and the constitution.

Foes accuse Maduro of turning Venezuela into a totalitarianism and wrecking what should be a prosperous economy. They want free elections and an end to two decades of socialist rule.

Maduro calls himself a flag bearer for the international left, up against right-wing terrorists attempting a coup with the connivance of the US and the international media.

The opposition is stepping up street tactics in what it dubs zero hour for Venezuela to try to block the new Constitutional Assembly Maduro wants to set up.

The opponent is boycotting the vote, calling it a sham and demanding conventional elections instead.

The Constituent Assembly, whose election rules appear designed to guarantee a majority for the government even though it has minority popular support, could rewrite the constitution and disband the existing opposition-led legislature.

Opposition protesters clash with Venezuela security forces in Caracas on Saturday. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/ EPA

At rival pro-government rallies on Saturday, nominees for the Constituent Assembly said it was the only route to bring peace to Venezuela. We are not going to let them destroy our fatherland, said Delcy Rodriguez, who left her post as foreign minister to stand for the new congress.

All of us united are going to tell the right wing Weve had enough of terrorism, Maduros wife Cilia Flores, also running for an assembly post, told the same rally in Caracas.

Also on Saturday, the governments intelligence service apprehended Angel Zerpa, one of 13 swears in as supreme court magistrates by the opposition in defiance of the government, opposition leaders said.

Authorities have threatened to arrest all the opposition-named magistrates and try them in military courts.

International pressure has been growing on Maduro to abandon next weekends referendum, including security threats from US President Donald Trump to apply economic sanctions.

But the government is showing no sign of backing down, announcing that it will put 232,000 soldiers on the street to ensure the Constituent Assembly goes ahead.

On Saturday, National Guard forces could be seen firing tear gas canisters horizontally at demonstrators in contravention of international norms, witnesses said. The repression has been brutal and the world has to understand what we are living through in the streets of Venezuela, opposition leader Mara Corina Machado said. Its criminal.

Reuters contributed to this report

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Venezuela protests: woman shot dead as thousands vote in unofficial referendum

President Nicolas Maduro denounces vote as illegal as activists tell gunmen fired on crowd of protesters

Gunmen in Venezuela shoot into a crowd of voters on Sunday, activists said, killing one woman and wounding three others during an unofficial referendum organised by the opposition to push for an end to two decades of socialist rule.

The opponent Democratic Unity coalition said a pro-government paramilitary gang opened fire in Caracas poor neighborhood of Catia, where thousands were participating in the event. Video footage showed people scattering as gunshots rang out, many taking sanctuary inside a church.

The day was stained by the killing of a Venezuelan woman who was protesting and exercising her rights, said opposition leader Freddy Guevara of the killing of Xiomara Escot. But violence cannot conceal what has happened. The people are not afraid and are clear in their decision.

Sundays symbolic poll, which asked voters opinion on President Nicolas Maduros plan for a controversial new congress, was aimed at denting his legitimacy further amid a crippling economic crisis and months of anti-government protests in which 100 people have been killed.

Maduro, 54, has denounced the plebiscite as illegal and meaningless. Instead, the former bus driver and union leader is campaigning for an official vote on 30 July in support of the proposed new assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.

The opponent casting Sundays unofficial referendum as an act of civil disobedience that will be followed by zero hour, a possible including references to their own nationals strike or other action against the president.

Volunteers count the ballots during an opposition-organized referendum to measure public is supportive of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt/ AFP/ Getty Images

Lines formed early at makeshift polling stations at theaters, sports fields, and traffic circles in the oil-rich nation of 30 million as Venezuelans furious over food shortages and rampant inflation sought to make their voices heard.

There was a festive atmosphere under the Caribbean sun in most places, with people blasting music, honking car horns, waving Venezuelan flags, and chanting Yes we can! More than five million people had cast ballots at 2,000 centres, the opposition told, as voting was extended into early evening so everyone waiting in line could have their say.

Maduro has done everything very badly, and now, via a fraudulent constituent assembly, he wants to gain time, but his time is up, told shopkeeper Rafael Betancourt, voting in late leftist leader Hugo Chavezs home state of Barinas, which has switched to the opposition.

This is the proof that the people will kick out whoever submits us to hunger and despair, he added, as hundreds waited to cast their ballot.

Crowds gathered to vote in other former Chavista strongholds too, such as the slums of Caracas.

Despite a strong turnout, the opponent referendum does not appear to augur a short-term change of government or a solution to the countrys political stalemate.

Voter were asked if they repudiated the proposed new assembly, whether they wanted the armed forces to defend the existing constitution, and if they wanted elections before Maduros term in office ends in 2018.

The referendum also included participation by swelling ranks of Venezuelans who have moved abroad, from Miami to Madrid, to escape the Opec nations dire economy.

Some public employees in Venezuela, under government pressure not to participate in opposition events, sought creative ways to vote without being noticed, such as traveling across town or even going in disguise.

The opposition had promised outcomes by Sunday evening.

But they are not able to use the countrys electoral infrastructure for the hastily convened vote. The elections council which the opposition calls a pawn of Maduro was simultaneously holding a test-run for the 30 July vote.

State telecommunications regulator Conatel ordered radio and Tv stations not to use the word plebiscite on air and told them to pull opposition ads for the vote, according to Venezuelas main organisation of media workers.

There is likewise lines for the 30 July test run in Caracas on Sunday, though the mood was notably more subdued than at the opposition polling stations. We poor are going to be represented now, said retirement home worker Iraiz Alfonzo, 45, as she stood in line for the assembly vote test run.

In a phone call to state Tv, Maduro recognise the opposition event but called it an internal consultation.

I exhort the opposition: Dont go crazy, calm down. As president of the republic, I make a call for peace, he said.

Sundays referendum came against the backdrop of near daily anti-government protests. Masked youths with stones, Molotov cocktails and homemade mortars have battled riot forces employing tear gas, water guns and rubber bullets since April.

The unrest has resulted in the deaths of both demonstrators, government supporters and security forces, largely from gunshots, as well as hundreds of apprehends and thousands of injuries.

Maduro has refused to recognise the authorities concerned of the National Assembly since the opponent won control of it in a 2015 landslide election, which his critics call evidence he is eroding democratic institutions in order to retain power.

He says the country is the victim of an economic war and that opponent protests are an effort to overthrow him with US connivance, an accusation the United States has denied.

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Venezuela’s supreme court attacked with grenade from police helicopter

President Nicols Maduro says grenade lobbed by terrorists did not explosion in incident following months of increasing violence against government

Venezuelas President Nicols Maduro has confirmed that two hand grenades were launched at the supreme court building on Tuesday evening from a helicopter. He said the helicopter was piloted by an agent from the countrys intelligence division who then managed to escape.

Videos circulated on social media presented a man piloting the helicopter while holding a banner that read Liberty. Article 350, in reference to an article in the Venezuelan constitution that allows for citizens to declare themselves in civil disobedience in front of any regime that runs counter to democratic assures or undermines human rights.

The incident took place merely hours after Maduro warned that he and his supporters would be willing to take up arms if his government was toppled by undemocratic forces.

Local media quoted witness accounts describing what they said had voiced like an exchange of fire between guards at the supreme court house and the helicopter. Maduro referred to the incident as an acts of terrorism, and called on his supporters to activate a new stage in the revolution should anything happen to him.

Maduro, speaking on state Tv, said the grenades did not explode and Venezuelan special forces were searching for the terrorists behind the attack.

The helicopter had also flown over the ministry of internal affairs, Maduro told, adding: I demand that the MUD[ opposition alliance] denounces this eminently coup-mongering assault It could have caused a misfortune with several dozen dead and injured.

According to Venezuelan daily El Nacional, the man who piloted the helicopter is Oscar Prez, a former captain in the CICPC, Venezuelas intelligence and investigative body. In a video released on social media, Prez speaks directly to a camera flanked by four masked men exerting what appear to be assault rifles.

Venezuelans, dear friends, we talk to you on behalf of the state. We are a alliance of military, police and civilians in search of an equilibrium and against this transitory, criminal government, Prez said. We have two selections: be judged tomorrow by our conscience and the people or begin today to free ourselves from this corrupt government.

Perez claims to have no political affiliation. In a second video, he pointed to a purple ribbon tied around his left limb and says his allegiance is to the truth and to Christ. According to his Instagram profile, Perez is a crime divisions researcher, a pilot and a K9 instructor.

Venezuelan authorities inspect the area around the supreme court after the helicopter attack. Photograph: Miguel Gutierrez/ EPA

Opposition activists have been staging unrelenting protests against a government they accuse of chronic mismanagement and increasingly authoritarian behaviour. The once-prosperous oil-producing country has suffered from rocketing inflation and spiralling crime rates.

The pro-government supreme court is especially detested by Maduros opponents for its string of rulings bolstering his power and undermining the opposition-controlled legislature.

Earlier on Tuesday, at a rally to promote a 30 July vote for a constituent assembly, Maduro said he would fight to defend the Bolivarian revolution of his predecessor Hugo Chvez.

If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian revolution destroyed, we would go to combat. We would never give up, and what we failed to achieve with referendums, we would do with weapons. We would liberate the fatherland with weapons.

His commentaries, which were broadcast live to the country, came after one of the worst outbreaks of looting in three months of deadly protests. Some 68 businesses, including supermarkets, liquor stores, bakeries and food shops were ransacked in a wave of lawlessness that has been initiated Monday night in the city of Maracay, 100 km west of Caracas, and continued well into Tuesday afternoon.

Videos circulating on social media presented at the least a dozen supermarkets being plundered by looters. The headquarters of the governing party, the PSUV, was also reportedly burnt.

More than 80 people have died since the conflicts began in early April, but Monday nights violence marked the first time that street conflicts have spread into more generalised anarchy.

Maduro, who accuses protesters of being terrorists trying to wage a US-backed takeover attempt against his government, is pushing for a constituent assembly that would redraft the countrys constitution. The move has been rejected by both the opposition and by a growing number of protesters from within his own party.

On Tuesday, Maduro said the demolition of Venezuela would unleash a refugee wave dwarfing the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. Listen, President Donald Trump, he told. You have the responsibility: stop the madness of the violent Venezuelan right wing.

Julio Borges, head of the opposition-led national assembly just said that Maduros statement could not be taken lightly.

It is the clearest acknowledgment that Venezuela lives a tyranny that intends to impose itself against the democratic spirit through a constituent assembly that will only deepen the social, political and humanitarian crisis that affects the country.

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Venezuela’s opposition accuses security forces of robbing protesters

One video demonstrates four police officer surrounding a woman who is reeling from the effects of teargas, with one pulling a watch from her wrist

Venezuelan opposition leaders have accused security force of assaulting and robbing demonstrators who take part in protests against President Nicols Maduro .

Two videos distributed over social networks appear to show police and troops taking protesters possessions during rallies on Monday, spurring outrage among many Venezuelans who already complain there has been excessive use of force in response to the two months of protests.


Opposition legislators on Tuesday filed a complaint with the state prosecutors office against the police and the National Guard in relation to the alleged robberies.

Reuters could not independently confirm the content of the videos. The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[ Interior pastor] Nestor Reverol devotes them licence to steal, told a legislator, Juan Matheus, adding that the complaint includes accusations of cruel and inhumane treatment.

One video shows four police officer surrounding a woman who is reeling from the effects of teargas, with one pulling what appears to be a watch from her wrist. In another, troops take a protesters helmet and handbag before boarding motorcycles.

The government tells it is fighting opposition terrorist cells trying to overthrow Maduro. They say the effort is similar to a 2002 takeover that briefly deposed late socialist leader Hugo Chvez , noting that protesters routinely interrupt traffic and damage public property while mounting barricades of burning debris.

Legislators said during Tuesdays congressional session that they had registered 16 assaults against journalists on Monday alone, with some 300 during the two months of protest. Ruling Socialist party legislators did not attend the congressional session.

Francisco Zambrano, a journalist with the website which is critical of the government, said in a telephone interview that troops had blocked his route when he attempted to run from a cloud of teargas fired to scatter demonstrators.

I identified myself as a journalist, but they still opened my suitcase, threw my things to the ground and searched my pockets, Zambrano told. I thought it was a regular procedure until they took out my cell phone and one of them kept it.

The information minister, Ernesto Villegas, asked on Monday about troops who hurled a television camera off a highway, said the National Guard as an institution was being unfairly held responsible for actions by individuals.

I know and have worked with men and women of the National Guard, who the hell is honorable and are out there risking their lives, he said during a broadcasted interview. They have also been the victim of aggression.

The protests have left some 65 people dead and thousands injured.

The government is preparing an electoral at the end of July for a constituent assembly that will have the power to revision the constitution and potential dissolve state institutions. Maduros critics call it a power grab meant to keep him in power indefinitely.

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