Posts Tagged ‘U.S. sanctions’

Iran’s Parliament increases funding for missiles after U.S. sanctions — Lawmakers shouted: “Death to America.”

August 13, 2017

AFP

© Atta Kenare, AFP | Members of Iran’s Armed Forces attend President Hassan Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony in Tehran on August 5, 2017. Rouhani warned the US against tearing up the nuclear deal as he was inaugurated for a second term.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-08-13

Iran’s parliament voted Sunday to allocate $520 million to develop its missile programme to fight Washington’s “adventurism” and sanctions, and to boost the foreign operations of the country’s Revolutionary Guards.

“The Americans should know that this was our first action,” said speaker Ali Larijani, after announcing an overwhelming majority vote for a package “to confront terrorist and adventurist actions by the United States in the region”.

A total of 240 lawmakers voted for the bill, out of the 244 parliamentarians present.

The vote came after fresh US sanctions in July against Iran, targeting Tehran’s missile programme.

“The bill is backed by the foreign ministry and the government and is part of measures by the JCPOA supervision committee to confront the recent US Congress law,” deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi.

He was referring to a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, known officially as the JCPOA, under which Iran agreed to strict limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

The bill mandates the government to allocate an additional $260 million for the “development of the missile programme” and the same amount to the Revolutionary Guards’s foreign operations wing, the Quds Force, state news agency IRNA said.

After Larijani announced the vote results, lawmakers shouted: “Death to America.”

Venezuelans Watch the Military for Signs of Fraying Loyalty

August 7, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela — As Venezuela’s political crisis spins further out of control, many are looking to the military to see if its once-unflinching loyalty to the socialist revolution might be fraying.

On Sunday morning, Venezuelans awoke to news that a small group of armed men tried to take over a major military base in the central city of Valencia after a long-mutinous national guard captain appeared in a video calling for rebellion.

Military chiefs said the rebels were trying to steal weapons [AFP]Military chiefs said the rebels were trying to steal weapons [AFP]

The government said what it described as a “terrorist attack” led mostly by civilians dressed in fatigues and deserted officers, not active troops, was quickly put down and seven people were arrested. It wasn’t clear how much support existed for the so-called “Operation David,” but dozens of civilians startled by the sound of gunfire poured into the streets singing Venezuela’s national anthem to back the rebels.

Many people wonder whether the tension-filled incident could foreshadow a bigger uprising to come from a military with a long history of rebellion and whose troops — like many Venezuelans — are increasingly caught up in the nation’s economic and political crisis.

Analysts say that such a scenario is unlikely for now.

While signs of disgruntlement are growing as security forces come under a barrage of rocks and Molotov cocktails during almost-daily anti-Maduro protests, soldiers also fear persecution under an opposition government. In addition, they face risks that any plans for a secret uprising would be found out.

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Former army Gen. Hebert Garcia Plaza

“They feel trapped,” said former army Gen. Hebert Garcia Plaza, a former Maduro minister. Since seeking exile in Washington in 2015 following accusations of corruption by Maduro, he has emerged as a sought-after filter of information for journalists, the opposition and, increasingly he says, distraught soldiers.

“There’s lots of unease, but they can’t provoke a political change without a clear horizon of what comes after Maduro,” Garcia Plaza said.

Venezuela’s military accumulated unmatched power and privilege in the past two decades of socialist rule, and Maduro has been increasingly relying on the armed forces as his own grip on power weakens. Last week, with the support of top generals, he plowed forward with a plan to seat an all-powerful assembly mandated with rewriting the constitution. Political opponents and dozens of foreign governments consider it an illegitimate power grab that will strip Venezuela of its last vestiges of democracy.

The opposition is urging the military to switch loyalties and pressure Maduro to cede to its demands, including freeing hundreds of political prisoners and setting a timetable for presidential elections. But many in the military, especially higher-ranking officers, have already hitched their fate to the revolution.

Following a 2002 coup, then-President Hugo Chavez, himself a former tank commander, carried out a deep purge of the military and promoted loyal officers to top positions in the government.

Maduro has expanded the military’s political power even further, giving them control of key sectors of the economy, such as food importation. He also rewarded soldiers with pay raises and bonuses that are the envy of civilians struggling amid triple-digit inflation and widespread shortages.

Even before the ballots were counted in the July 30 election for the constitutional assembly, Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez went in front of the cameras accompanied by the top military brass to celebrate the results as a defeat for imperialism.

Despite the outward loyalty, some cracks began to appear even before Sunday’s attack. At least 106 members of the armed forces, some of them junior officers, have been jailed for alleged crimes such as rebellion and treason since protests began in April, according to the lists provided by an army official on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. There also have been a few high-profile defections from lower-ranked soldiers that have become social media sensations.

One is Giomar Flores, a low-ranking naval intelligence officer who in June released a video calling for the armed forces to uphold the constitution. Before fleeing to Colombia, where the video was recorded, he was assigned to policing food lines in Falcon state, a job that in theory afforded access to hard-to-find staples but which ended up turning him against the institution he loved.

“I decided my future was worth more than a bag of food,” the 25-year-old Flores said in an interview with The Associated Press from Bogota.

He said the top military command was corrupted by the government and divisions within the institution more apparent than ever.

“The armed forces today are like a snake, whose head is the top command that sadly is subordinated to the regime,” Flores said. “If you cut off the head, you’ll find us the troops.”

But a full-grown rebellion such as the one led by then-Lt. Col. Chavez in 1992 faces enormous obstacles, not the least of which is a dedicated counterespionage effort by Maduro.

“It’s very hard to create critical mass without being found out,” said Ivan Briscoe, head Latin American analyst for the International Crisis Group. “In an era of instant digital communications, authorities can be alerted to the risk of destabilization very quickly.”

Far from resolving Venezuela’s problems, a coup would trigger a full-blown international crisis and likely split the military, leading to even higher levels of violence approaching a civil war, Briscoe said. Opposition leaders, wary of awakening ghosts in a region that has turned its back on a century of military takeovers, are instead calling for behind-the-scenes pressure and restraint on using force against protesters.

A failure of the socialist system also could expose many senior officers to prosecution for human rights abuses and corruption. Several have already been targeted by U.S. sanctions, including the head of the army and national guard.

The opposition has gone to great lengths to say it will avoid a witch hunt if it gains power. But many in the military are unconvinced that any promises from the traditionally fragmented opposition can be taken seriously, given the huge challenges it would face governing, Garcia Plaza said.

“Many would rather trust the devil they know then the one they don’t,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Joshua Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia.

Venezuela’s Ex-Foreign Minister Sworn In to Head New Assembly

August 4, 2017

CARACAS — Venezuela’s former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez was on Friday sworn in as president of a new Constituent Assembly, which was installed by the government and authorized to expand the powers of leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

Governments from Spain to Canada to Argentina have spoken out against the assembly and the United States imposed sanctions on OPEC member Venezuela, which is grappling with a political and economic crisis.

(Reporting by Caracas newsroom; editing by Grant McCool)

The Latest: Kremlin Say US Political Will Needed to Fix Ties

July 31, 2017

MOSCOW — The Latest on U.S-Russian tensions (all times local):

1:10 p.m.

The Kremlin says Washington needs to show “political will” for Russia-U.S. relations to recover.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Monday that it will take time for the U.S. to rid itself of what he called “political schizophrenia.” He added that Russia remains interested in constructive cooperation with the U.S.

On Sunday, Putin said the U.S. would have to cut 755 of its embassy and consulate staff in Russia — a sweeping reduction which he described as a response to new U.S. sanctions. The Russian Foreign Ministry also announced closing down a U.S. recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow as well as warehouse facilities.

Moscow’s move showed that its earlier hopes for an improvement in Russia-U.S. ties after Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election have withered.

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12 noon

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that United States cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people, heightening tensions between Washington and Moscow three days after the U.S. Congress approved sanctions against Russia.

The U.S. State Department called Putin’s move “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”

The announcement Sunday also came hours after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence landed in Estonia, which borders Russia, for talks with the country that holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Russian’s Foreign Ministry on Friday first ordered a reduction by Sept. 1 in U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455 people in response to a new package of American sanctions.

The sanctions seek to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and for its aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Venezuela Crisis Enters New Phase With Sunday Vote — “The last chance for political resolution of Venezuela’s problems is gone.”

July 29, 2017

CARACAS, Venezuela — Despite four months of deadly protests and the threat of U.S. sanctions, Venezuela on Saturday found itself 24 hours away from a consolidation of government power that appeared certain to drag the OPEC nation deeper into a crisis that has entire neighborhoods battling police and paramilitaries while the poor root for scraps in piles of trash.

In the opposition strongholds of relatively wealthy eastern Caracas, skinny teenagers manned barricades of tree branches, garbage and barbed wire torn from nearby buildings. Clashes with police began late Friday afternoon and lasted into the night. The months of violence has left at least 113 dead and nearly 2,000 wounded.

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An opposition activist holds a flag reading “No more dictatorship” during a blockade to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, July 18, 2017.
Juan Barretp/AFP/Getty Images
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An opposition activist holds a flag reading “No more dictatorship” during a blockade to protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, July 18, 2017.

The rest of the capital was calm. Across the city, residents said they wanted President Nicolas Maduro out of power but didn’t want to risk their lives or livelihoods taking on his socialist government and its backers.

“I have a young daughter, I can’t risk anything happening to me,” said Maria Llanes, a 55-year-old flower-store worker who lives in a south Caracas neighborhood dominated by armed pro-government motorcycle gangs. “What do I do, protest in this neighborhood, so that they kill me? This area’s run by a mafia loyal to the money the government pays them.”

Maduro called for a massive turnout Sunday for a vote to elect members of an assembly tasked with rewriting the 18-year-old constitution created under President Hugo Chavez. The opposition is boycotting because, it says, the vote called by Maduro was structured to ensure that his ruling socialist party dominates.

The opposition says the government is so afraid of low turnout that it’s threatening to fire state workers who don’t vote, and take away social benefits like subsidized food from recipients who stay away from the polls.

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By Wednesday, the resulting National Constituent Assembly will become one of the most powerful organs in the country, able to root out the last vestiges of democratic checks and balances in favor of what many fear will be a single-party authoritarian system.

First Lady Cilia Flores, a candidate for the assembly, said it would create a commission to ensure those responsible for the current political upheaval “pay and learn their lesson.” Diosdado Cabello, first vice president of Venezuela’s socialist party, says the assembly will strip legislators in the opposition-controlled National Assembly of their immunity from prosecution. He said the office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, who recently became one of Maduro’s most outspoken critics, would be “turned upside down.”

“On July 30, the constitutional assembly will happen,” Maduro said Friday at a ceremony marking the completion of subsidized housing. “I’ve been loyal to Chavez’s legacy. Now it’s your turn.”

The United States has imposed successive rounds of sanctions on members of Maduro’s administration and Vice President Mike Pence on Friday promised “strong and swift economic actions” after Sunday’s vote. He didn’t say whether the U.S. would sanction Venezuelan oil imports, a measure with the potential to undermine Maduro but cause an even deeper humanitarian crisis here.

Opinion polls show that more than 70 percent of the country is opposed to Sunday’s vote. But as many as half of all Venezuelans support neither the government nor the opposition — a phenomenon evident in the glum paralysis that has gripped much of the country as protesters and police wage nightly battles. While Venezuelans bitterly complain about shortages of food and medicine, few still respond to opposition calls for protests, a far cry from early protests that saw hundreds of thousands pouring into the streets.

“Many strange things have taken place this week that makes you wonder what is going on with the opposition. I don’t know. The opposition is at home, the opposition is hiding,” Caracas resident Abed Mondabed said.

The opposition has organized a series of work stoppages and a July 16 protest vote that it says drew more than 7.5 million symbolic votes against the constitutional assembly. It called late Friday for massive marches on the day of the assembly vote.

In the eastern neighborhood of Bello Monte, the site of fierce battles with police in recent days, a 54-year-old shop owner named Ricardo watched masked adolescents block a road with dumpsters as a soot-smeared, emaciated man picked through their contents for bits of food.

Ricardo, who declined to provide his last name for fear of government retaliation, said he felt the Sunday vote meant the last chance for political resolution of Venezuela’s problems was gone, ushering in an even more violent phase.

“Negotiations have come to an end,” he said. “The fight will continue and all of a sudden it could be a lot tougher.”

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Russia Orders U.S. to Cut Diplomatic Staff, Says to Seize Diplomatic Property

July 28, 2017

MOSCOW — Russia ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic staff by Sept. 1 and said it was seizing a dacha compound and warehouse used by U.S. diplomats in retaliation for new U.S. sanctions against Moscow.

Russia’s retaliation, outlined in a statement from the Foreign Ministry, came a day after the U.S. Senate voted to slap new sanctions on Russia, putting President Donald Trump in a tough position by forcing him to take a hard line on Moscow or veto the legislation and anger his own Republican Party.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also warned the United States it would respond in kind if Washington decided to expel any Russian diplomats.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt/Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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Venezuela: New sanctions and fresh strike

July 27, 2017

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Venezuela — An anti-Maduro protester stands ready for action. AP photo

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro at home and abroad tried again Wednesday to pressure the socialist leader into halting his plans to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution though there was no public sign their efforts were working.

The Trump administration announced sanctions on 13 current and former members of Maduro’s administration, freezing their U.S. assets and barring Americans from doing business with them. The U.S. also joined with a dozen other regional governments in urging Maduro to suspend Sunday’s election of a national assembly for rewriting the charter.

Far from derail Maduro, the Venezuelan leader appeared emboldened by the sanctions, praising those accused by the U.S. government of undermining the nation’s democracy and abusing human rights.

“We don’t recognize any sanction,” he said. “For us, it’s a recognition of morality, loyalty to the nation, and civic honesty.”

Those moves came as a coalition of Venezuelan opposition groups organized a second national strike in a week. Highways were mostly empty and businesses shuttered across the country as millions of people observed the 48-hour strike and activists threw up roadblocks in many neighborhoods to keep others from getting to work.

By late afternoon, clashes between police and protesters erupted at some roadblocks in Caracas, and the chief prosecutor’s office reported at least one person killed. That increased the official count of dead in nearly four months of demonstrations to at least 98.

Venezuela was less than four days from a vote that would start the process of rewriting its constitution by electing members of a special assembly to reshape the charter. The opposition is boycotting the vote, saying election rules were rigged to guarantee Maduro a majority in the constitutional assembly.

Maduro did not address the nation Wednesday but state-run television was filled with scenes of his backers exhorting the public to go to the polls Sunday.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez called on Venezuelans to support the strike in his first direct public message since being moved from prison to house arrest this month. The 46-year-old former Caracas-area mayor, who was sentenced to 14 years in 2015 after being convicted of inciting violence during a previous spate of protests, also appealed to the military not to deploy for Sunday’s election.

“We are on the brink of their trying to annihilate the republic that you swore to defend,” Lopez said in a 15-minute video message. “I ask you not to be accomplices in the annihilation of the republic.”

Three days of protests are planned leading up to Sunday’s vote, starting with the strike and culminating Friday with a demonstration billed as a “takeover of Caracas.”

“We have to do everything possible to halt the constitutional assembly,” said Maria Medina, an office administrator who was waiting in line at a state-run bank that opened. “The only solution is a change of government.”

Among those hit by the U.S. sanctions were Tibisay Lucena Ramirez, the president of the National Electoral Council and president of Venezuela’s National Board of Elections; Elias Jose Jaua Milano, minister of education and head of the Presidential Commission for the National Constituent Assembly; Tarek William Saab Halabi, president of Venezuela’s Republican Moral Council; and Maria Iris Varela Rangel, a member of Venezuela’s Presidential Commission for the Constituent Assembly.

In addition, penalties will apply to several members of Venezuela’s national guard, police and other security services, including Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, who was indicted last year by the U.S. Justice Department for his alleged role in an international cocaine distribution conspiracy.

The Trump administration has said it is considering further sanctions, including restrictions on Venezuelan oil imports, a potentially devastating blow to Venezuela’s economy.

The U.S. also said it had determined that Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, hit with U.S. sanctions in February, had “hundreds of millions of dollars” in assets that have been frozen due to the sanctions. The U.S. has accused El Aissami of playing a major role in global drug trafficking, a charge he denies. El Aissami is the most senior Venezuelan official ever targeted by the U.S.

The flagship airline in neighboring Colombia said it was suspending all flights to Venezuela, citing security concerns. Avianca joined a long list of air carriers that have suspended service to Venezuela as the country sinks further into economic and political chaos. June saw the last United Airlines departure from Caracas.

A top Cuban official said his country had no intention of trying to mediate a solution to Venezuela’s crisis, rejecting the idea of what he called “foreign meddling” and voicing full support for Maduro, a key ideological and economic ally of the island’s government.

“Those who from the outside try to give lessons on democracy and human rights while encouraging coup-mongering violence and terrorism should take their hands off that nation,” Cuban Communist Party Second Secretary Jose Ramon Machado Ventura said at a ceremony marking the anniversary of a failed barracks uprising that is considered the beginning of Fidel Castro’s revolution.

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Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez in Havana and Joshua Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

Germany will examine proposed new U.S. sanctions against Russia

July 26, 2017

BERLIN — Germany says it will examine a new package of U.S. sanctions against Russia approved by the House of Representatives amid concerns that the measures could affect European businesses.

Germany and Austria in recent weeks have criticized the planned penalties, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping Russian natural gas.

German spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Wednesday that Germany opposes in principle “sanctions with extraterritorial effects.” She added it’s important for the European Union and the U.S. to continue closely coordinating sanctions against Russia and “in this light, we will examine in detail the bill that has now been approved.”

German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said the U.S. isn’t entitled to tell European companies how to do business with a third country, but the legislation has improved from the original proposal.

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German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer

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German Official Warns U.S. Not to Use Sanctions for Industrial Policy

July 26, 2017

BERLIN — Germany warned on Wednesday it would be unacceptable for the United States to use possible sanctions against Russia as a tool of industrial policy and called for close coordination of proposed sanctions between Europe and Washington.

U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of slapping extra sanctions on North Korea and Russia, which stands accused of meddling in the 2016 election campaign in support of the candidacy of U.S. President Donald Trump.

A German foreign ministry spokesman said Berlin wanted to work with the U.S. on the sanctions, which he said would not necessarily be adopted, but “could not accept” the practice of carrying out industrial policy under the guise of sanctions.

(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Michelle Martin)

Iran Will Respond to Any New U.S. Sanctions: Deputy Foreign Minister

July 26, 2017

BEIRUT — Iran will respond if the U.S. government passes new sanctions, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi said Wednesday, according to state media.

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Islamic Republic of Iran deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi  (Abbas Araghch)

New sanctions being discussed in the U.S. Congress are “a completely clear hostile act and against the Islamic Republic of Iran and … will be met with a definitive response,” Araqchi, who is also a top nuclear negotiator, was quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

He did not specify what actions Iran would take.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to slap new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The Republican-controlled Senate passed an earlier version of the bill with near-unanimous support.

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Iran’s Republican Guard released this photo of the IRGC launching a missile attack on enemy positions in Syria

It was unclear how quickly the bill would make its way to the White House for U.S. President Donald Trump to sign into law or veto.

Separately, Trump issued a veiled threat against Iran on Tuesday, warning Tehran to adhere to the terms of a nuclear deal with world powers or else face “big, big problems.”

A week after certifying Iran as complying with the 2015 agreement negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, Trump made clear that he remains extremely wary of Tehran.

New sanctions could reduce the benefits that Iran receives from the nuclear agreement, Araqchi said, according to IRNA.

“America has committed to follow the nuclear deal with goodwill and in a productive environment and to hold back from any steps that would have an effect on the successful execution of the deal,” he said.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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USS Thunderbolt

 (Qatar stands in support of Iran)