Venezuela, America ties on the brink
Caracas: Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro announced on Thursday he was breaking off diplomatic ties with the US after President Donald Trump recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as the South American country’s “interim President”. “I’ve decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist government of the United States,” said Maduro to thousands of supporters in Caracas. “Get out! Leave Venezuela, here there’s dignity, damn it,” he said, giving the US delegation 72 hours to quit the country.
Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled legislature, caused a sensation on Wednesday when he told a crowd of tens of thousands of opposition supporters that he was declaring himself “acting President”. Trump was the first foreign leader to react and threw his backing behind Guaido, describing the National Assembly as “the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people”.
Speaking from a balcony at the presidential palace in Caracas, Maduro accused the US government of “attempting a coup d’etat”. “The extremist policy of the Trump govt against Venezuela is a very serious irresponsibility, it’s a very serious folly,” said Maduro. “Trying to impose a government by extra-constitutional means, we cannot accept that.”
He called on Venezuela’s state agencies to “close ranks” in favour of “democracy” and repeated his call for loyalty from the armed forces. “To my command, maximum loyalty, maximum unity, maximum discipline so that we win this battle together!” said Maduro. “Always loyal, never traitors!”
Meanwhile, the US upholded its decision to recognise Guaido as the interim President of Venezuela, stating beleaguered Maduro did not have the “legal authority to break diplomatic relations” with the US or declare its diplomats “persona non grata”. “The US maintains diplomatic relations with Venezuela and will conduct our relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela,” a statement by Secy of State Michael Pompeo read.
China conducts mock intercontinental ballistic missile strike exercise
Beijing: China’s Rocket Force, the strategic and tactical missile operator of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has conducted a simulated intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strike mission from an underground bunker against an imaginary enemy, official media here reported.
China Central Television (CCTV), which carried the news, however, did not disclose the details about the location and time of the exercise. The Rocket Force was set up by the PLA three years ago as President Xi Jinping stepped up efforts to modernise the 2 million-strong Chinese military, the world’s largest force. The Rocket Force was carved out from the second artillery corps and it functioned in coordination with the Strategic Support Force which focussed on navigation and cyber technology support.
China’s land-based ICBM has a flight range of 12,000 km and could potentially hit targets in the US, state-run Global Times reported. Revealing the ICBM test, the CCTV report said long-term survival training in closed environments has become routine for the troops to ensure counterattack capability in case a war breaks out, the report said. Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times that China’s strategic missiles are usually placed in deep, protective bunkers.
As China promises to never use nuclear weapon first and will only use them in a counterattack, its strategic missile storage facilities must be able to survive the first wave of hostile nuclear strike, Song said, noting that the underground bunkers are invaluable in protecting Chinese missiles from being destroyed and prepare for counterattacks. China’s highest science and technology award of 2018 was given to academician Qian Qihu for his achievements in fortifying these nuclear defence facilities under mountains.
PLA troops have experienced three weapon upgrades in the past 60 years, and missiles now have a longer range, and are more accurate and more powerful, CCTV report said. China has a range of missiles which included the Dongfeng-26 ballistic missile, which can be fired at short notice and fitted with a nuclear warhead. The Dongfeng-21D land-based anti-ship ballistic missile described as a “carrier killer,” and the Dongfeng-16G conventional missile designed for precision strikes against key enemy targets.
Song said the three generations of ICBMs could be the DF-5, DF-31 and DF-41, all of which are capable of striking targets more than 10,000 kms away with a deviation of less than a few dozen meters, carrying single or multiple thermonuclear warheads. Without a first strike against China, China will never use the weapons, the analyst said. The DF-41, China’s mysterious and most advanced ICBM, might make its public debut on October 1, the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s founding, as a military parade is expected to be held in Beijing on that day, Song said.
China’s military has cut the size of its land-based army by about 50 per cent and significantly boosted its navy and air force as part of an “unprecedented” strategic shift designed to transform the PLA into a comprehensive modern force. The Chinese military has significantly boosted its navy, air force and new strategic units and downsized its land-based army.
NASA replaces astronaut Eric Boe for 1st Boeing mission to International Space Station
Washington: The US space agency has replaced one of the astronauts assigned to fly on the first crewed test launch of a first-time Boeing capsule to take passengers to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA announced late Tuesday that astronaut Eric Boe will no longer fly on the mission owing to unspecified “medical reasons.” NASA astronaut Mike Fincke has been added to the crew.
“He previously served as an International Space Station flight engineer and science officer on Expedition 9, and commanded the station on Expedition 18,” said the space agency. This will be Fincke’s fourth trip to space since joining the astronaut corps in 1996.
Fincke will begin training immediately alongside NASA’s Nicole Mann and Boeing’s Chris Ferguson, who were both assigned to the mission in August 2018. The Starliner’s Crew Flight Test will be the first time that the new spacecraft, which is being developed and built by Boeing as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme, is launched into space with humans on board. An uncrewed flight test of the Starliner will test the spacecraft’s critical systems prior to Fincke, Ferguson and Manna’s launch, said NASA.
Death toll in Mexico pipeline fire rises to 93
Mexico City: The death toll in a massive fire at an illegally tapped pipeline in Mexico has risen to 93 after more injured died at hospitals. Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer said Tuesday that 46 victims who were severely burned were still in hospitals, two of them in Galveston, Texas. The victims were gathering gasoline from an illegal pipeline tap in the central state of Hidalgo on Friday when the gas ignited, littering an alfalfa field with charred bodies.
The government reported Monday that an astonishing total of 14,894 such illegal taps had been found in 2018, an average of about 41 per day nationwide. Hidalgo had 2,121 taps, more than any other state. The fire occurred in the town of Tlahuelilpan, where 38 taps were found in 2017 and 23 in 2018.
British PM Theresa May wins confidence vote, calls on MPs to work together to deliver Brexit
London: British Prime Minister Theresa May has called on MPs to “put self-interest aside” and “work constructively together” towards Brexit after surviving a no confidence vote and averting a general election.
The prime minister won by 325 votes to 306 – a majority of 19- on Wednesday, a day after her government suffered a historic parliamentary defeat over her Brexit divorce deal with the European Union. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after the voting, May said the government has won the confidence of Parliament. This now gives “us all the opportunity to focus on finding a way forward on Brexit”, she said. “Overwhelmingly, the British people want us to get on with delivering Brexit, and also address the other important issues they care about,” the Conservative leader said.
This is now the time to put “self-interest aside”, May said, “Now MPs have made clear what they don’t want, we must all work constructively together to set out what parliament does want.” “That’s why I am inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward. One that both delivers on the referendum and can command the support of Parliament. This is now the time to put self-interest aside,” she said. The prime minister said she believes it was her duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union. “And I intend to do so,” May said in the televised interview after the winning the vote of no confidence.
British PM Theresa May suffers crushing defeat over Brexit deal
Earlier, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that May’s “zombie” administration had lost the right to govern during a six hour debate on his motion. His party has not ruled out tabling further no-confidence motions. After her victory, May told MPs that she would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”. She invited leaders of all parties to have individual meetings with her on the way ahead for Brexit, starting tonight, but called on them to approach them with a “constructive spirit”.
“We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House,” she added. During her address form 10 Downing, the prime minister said she has held “constructive” meetings and will be meeting MPs along with senior government officials in the coming days. May also reiterated a promise to return to the Commons on Monday to give MPs another vote on her plans. “The House has put its confidence in this government,” she said in the House of Commons.
“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver Brexit and ensure that this House retains the confidence of the British people.” The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s minority government, also voted to keep her administration in power despite their strong opposition to the Brexit deal. May’s divorce deal to leave the EU was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on Tuesday, triggering a no-confidence motion against her government and leaving the country with no plans for Brexit on March 29.
The PM’s bid to get the Withdrawal Agreement, struck between London and Brussels, was rejected by 432 votes to 202 – a majority of 230, the biggest defeat ever suffered by a British premier in modern history. Within minutes after the defeat, the biggest for a sitting British government in history, opposition leader Corbyn’s Labour party moved a motion of no-confidence against the May government to be held on Wednesday.
Britain is set to exit the 28-member European Union, which it joined in 1973, on March 29. With just over two months to go until the scheduled departure, Britain is still undecide on what to do. May, 62, has spent two years negotiating the divorce plan aimed at bringing about an orderly Brexit and setting up a 21- month transition period to negotiate a free-trade deal with Brussels. Her deal included both the withdrawal agreement on the terms on which the UK leaves the EU and a political declaration for the future relationship. May had survived a no-confidence vote by her own Conservative Party in December.
United States: Teachers’ strike in Los Angeles affects five lakh students
Los Angeles: More than 30,000 public school teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job on Monday to press their demands for better pay, smaller class sizes and more educators. The strike — the first in 30 years — is affecting some 500,000 students in the nation’s second largest school district, with intense negotiations in past weeks failing to lead to a breakthrough.
The action is being watched closely by teaching unions across the country that are engaged in labour negotiations and also considering strikes. “Here we are on a rainy day in the richest country in the world, in the richest state in the country, in a state that’s blue (Democrat) as it can be — and in a city rife with millionaires — where teachers have to go on strike to get the basics for our students,” Alex Caputo-Pearl, the head of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, told a news conference.
“Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education,” Caputo-Pearl added. “The question is: do we starve our public neighbourhood schools so that they (become) privatised, or do we re-invest in our public neighbourhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?” Although the teachers’ union and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) agree that class sizes — some at more than 40 — must shrink, teacher salaries must improve and more support staff are needed, they differ on funding.
School district officials insist they have taken great pains to avert a strike and negotiate with the union and say the district simply doesn’t have enough money to meet all of the demands. A revised offer submitted on Friday and calling for roughly USD 24 million more in funding and 1,200 more teachers for the upcoming school year was rejected.
LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner on Monday said his office had reached out to the governor’s office and the mayor’s office to see if they could help broker a deal. He said the teachers’ demands would cost about USD 3 billion and push district into insolvency.
“We remain committed to resolve the contract negotiations as soon as possible,” Beutner told reporters. “We urge (the union) to resume bargaining with us anytime, anywhere, 24-7. We’d like to resolve this.” Despite the walkout, the 1,240 schools in the sprawling district remain open, he said, with classes taught by administrators and substitute teachers.
Last spring, a strike by teachers in the state of West Virginia over low wages and rising health care costs set off a wave of similar action in several other states and garnered strong public support. The walkout in Los Angeles could have a similar effect.
In Denver, Colorado, for example, the teachers union has threatened a strike unless an agreement can be reached by the end of this week on salary conditions. Teachers’ unions across the country offered support for those striking in Los Angeles, with many educators and parents wearing red T-shirts in solidarity.
Red became the signature colour of striking teachers last year after an early demonstration called on them to wear “Red4Ed.” Monday’s strike action also drew support from Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren. “I support @UTLAnow & LAUSD teachers who are for fighting for better pay, smaller classes, & better resourced schools for our kids,” she tweeted. “When we fail our public school teachers, we fail their students – and we fail our future. I’m with our teachers all the way.”
Decision time as British MPs vote on Brexit deal
London: The British parliament holds a historic vote Tuesday on the Brexit deal agreed with the EU and all sides are bracing for turmoil when the text is almost certainly rejected.
With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, a bitterly divided Britain is in limbo and the world is on tenterhooks about what will happen next. Few expect the deal to pass, but the scale of Prime Minister Theresa May’s defeat could determine whether she tries again, loses office, delays Brexit — or if Britain even leaves the EU at all. MPs from all parties oppose the agreement, for different reasons, but on the eve of the vote May urged them to look again. “No, it is not perfect. And yes, it is a compromise,” she said.
“But when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house… and ask: did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union? “Or did we let the British people down?” The deal was agreed with the EU in November after 18 months of talks described as Britain’s toughest since World War II. But hardline Brexit supporters fear it keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU and represents a “betrayal”, while pro-Europeans argue it leaves the country half-in, half-out. Rather than heal the divisions exposed by the 2016 Brexit referendum, it has reignited them, with pro-European MPs facing death threats and harassment outside parliament.
Brexit supporters around the country have voiced growing frustration with what they see as parliamentary blockage of their democratic vote, while europhiles see hope in the increased talk of a second referendum to end the impasse. May postponed a House of Commons vote on the deal in December, facing certain defeat, and has since offered MPs clarifications she hopes will convince them. Criticism is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership.
May has offered parliament greater oversight of this so-called backstop, and at her request, EU leaders have also given written assurances that the arrangement would not become permanent. A handful of Conservative MPs have changed their minds to back the deal, but a junior minister resigned on Monday so he could vote against it — and the core of May’s critics say she has not done enough. “Nothing has fundamentally changed,” said Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Northern Irish party on whom May relies for her Commons majority.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said May had “completely and utterly failed” to ease MPs’ concerns and said if she loses the vote on Tuesday night, she must call an election. His party has also threatened a confidence vote in her government. Voting begins at 7:00 pm (1900 GMT), with MPs likely to decide on a number of amendments first, which could seek to change or kill the Brexit deal. In the event of a defeat, the government must set out what happens next by Monday at the latest.
Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that May could ask to delay Brexit, but she said Monday: “I don’t believe that the date of March 29 should be delayed.” The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period to provide continuity until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London. Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever 46 years of ties with its nearest neighbours this spring with no new arrangements to ease the blow.
MPs fearful of a “no deal” scenario have vowed to use parliamentary procedures to force the government to seek an alternative plan that the Commons can support. Some commentators suggest May could return to Brussels, seeking further assurances on the deal and the future EU-UK relationship and ask parliament to vote again. “At the second time of asking, MPs might just vote for her deal over the catastrophe that would be no deal,” said John Springford, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform.
Government shutdown because of Democrats: Donald Trump
Washington: President Donald Trump on Monday attributed the partial government shutdown, which is now into its 24th day, to the opposition Democrats who have blocked his proposal of USD5.6 billion in Congressional funding to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
He also said that he will “never ever back down” when its comes to keeping the American people safe. The partial government shutdown, which is the longest ever, has left more than 800,000 federal government workers out of work across the key departments. “The government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only, the Democrats will not fund border security, our safety, our national security,” Trump said, addressing to a rally of farmers in Louisiana.
Referring to his visit to the Mexico border last week, Trump said illegal aliens not only from Mexico, but also from other nations enter the country from the southern border. “People come from many countries. When I was at the wall the other day, Border Patrol said they have 150 people they caught that day who weren’t from Mexico. I said that’s a strange statement,” he said. “They said no, these are the people that weren’t from Mexico and I was surprised. Three were from Pakistan, four from another Mideast, two Mideast countries and many were from other countries including China, countries all over the world.
“150 of the people, as he said, were not from Mexico. Now they caught, many, many more but that’s 150 people coming from countries that you wouldn’t believe,” Trump said. He said the Democrats will not approve the measures he needs to keep America safe. “We can’t do that. We can’t do that because this is of paramount importance to our country and again, I could take it nice and easy. I could enjoy myself. I could relax. I have been in the White House because I think it’s very important to be there,” he said.
He alleged that the Democrat leaders went on a nice wonderful vacation over the weekend. “They had a great time but I would have loved to have been with them. I didn’t like the look of it. I would have loved to have been with them but we have a very big problem. This should have been done by other presidents just like the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem should have been done. It was promised by many other presidents,” the US President said.
Trump insisted that the US needs a wall all around, all the length of the border. “We have got to stop the drug packers bringing drugs to poison our people,” he said, arguing that walls, as being said by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are not immoral. “I’ve travelled around the world and the biggest wall I have ever seen is around the Vatican. Now you can’t tell me that the wonderful priests and officials of the Roman Catholic church including the Pope are immoral. They have a wall. Why can’t we?” he said.
Asserting that the defense of the nation is his highest and most important duty, Trump said when it comes to keeping the American people safe, he will never ever back down. “I didn’t need this fight. This is a real fight. We are dealing against people who think if they can stop me from building the wall again, we’ve already done a lot of work but they think that’s a good thing for 2020 because they’re not going to win. “They think if they can’t stop me from building the wall that’s good. This is the reason why they don’t want the wall built because they all know it works, they all approved it numerous times,” he said.
Canada to welcome over 1 mn new immigrants
Ottawa: Canada’s Parliament has announced plans to add more than one million new permanent residents in the next three years, which is nearly 1 per cent of the country’s population each year.
Canada welcomed more than 286,000 permanent residents in 2017 and projects that number could reach 350,000 this year, CNN reported.
“Thanks in great part to the newcomers we have welcomed throughout our history, Canada has developed into the strong and vibrant country we all enjoy,” Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC), said on Thursday.
Hussen, himself an immigrant from Somalia, said the influx will help offset Canada’s aging population and declining birth rate while growing its labour force.
Canada’s friendly stance towards new residents comes as many other Western nations, including the US, are adopting more restrictive immigration policies.
Canada is especially dedicated to offering protection to refugees.
The UN Refugee Agency reported unprecedented levels of refugees in 2017, with the number of forcibly displaced people reaching 68.5 million.
The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has pledged $5.6 million to support global resettlement initiatives.
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to step down on February 1
Washington: In a surprise move, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on Monday announced that he will step down from his position on February 1 – much before the end of his term in 2022. Kim, 58, has been in this position for over six years now. The president of the Washington-based World Bank has always been an American citizen nominated by the United States, which is the largest shareholder of this multilateral financial institution.
“It has been a great honour to serve as President of this remarkable institution, full of passionate individuals dedicated to the mission of ending extreme poverty in our lifetime,” Kim said.
Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank CEO, will assume the role of interim President effective February 1.
“The work of the World Bank Group is more important now than ever as the aspirations of the poor rise all over the world, and problems like climate change, pandemics, famine and refugees continue to grow in both their scale and complexity,” Kim was quoted as saying in a World Bank press release.
“Serving as President and helping position the institution squarely in the middle of all these challenges has been a great privilege,” Kim said.
During his term as World Bank President beginning July 2012, Kim emphasised that one of the greatest needs in the developing world is infrastructure finance and he pushed the Bank Group to maximize finance for development by working with a new cadre of private sector partners committed to building sustainable, climate-smart infrastructure in developing nations, the release said.
To that end, Kim announced that, immediately after his departure, he will join a firm and focus on increasing infrastructure investments in developing countries, it said, adding that the details of this new position will be announced shortly.
Under his leadership, the World Bank established two goals: to end extreme poverty by 2030; and to boost shared prosperity, focusing on the bottom 40 percent of the population in developing countries. These goals now guide and inform the institution in its daily work around the globe, it said.
In addition, shareholders strongly supported measures to ensure that the Bank Group be even better positioned to respond to the development needs of clients: The Bank Group’s Fund for the Poorest, IDA, achieved two successive, record replenishments, which enabled the institution to increase its work in areas suffering from fragility, conflict, and violence.
In April 2018, the Bank Group’s Governors overwhelmingly approved a historic USD 13 billion capital increase for IBRD and IFC that will allow the Bank Group to support countries in reaching their development goals while responding to crises such as climate change, pandemics, fragility, and underinvestment in human capital around the world.
“Over the past 6+ years, the institutions of the World Bank Group have provided financing at levels never seen outside of a financial crisis,” the bank said.
Recognising the power of capital markets to transform development finance, the Bank Group during Kim’s tenure also launched several new innovative financial instruments, including facilities to address infrastructure needs, prevent pandemics, and help the millions of people forcibly displaced from their homes by climate shocks, conflict, and violence.
The Bank is also working with the United Nations and leading technology companies to implement the Famine Action Mechanism, to detect warning signs earlier and prevent famines before they begin.