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Argentina claims to be sheltering Venezuelan opposition leaders in embassy

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Members of Venezuela’s opposition coalition have sought refuge in the Argentinian embassy in Caracas, according to the office of Argentina’s president, Javier Milei.

“We have sheltered political opposition leaders in our embassy in Caracas,” presidential spokesperson Manuel Adorni said in a news conference in Buenos Aires on Wednesday. “We call for a solution soon.”

Just one day prior, Milei’s administration had released a statement expressing “concern” at the “acts of harassment and persecution directed against political figures in Venezuela”.

The far-right Milei also warned his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro, against “any deliberate action that endangers the safety of Argentinian diplomatic personnel or Venezuelan citizens under [the embassy’s] protection”.

The announcement comes as members of Venezuela’s opposition coalition face threats of arrest, amid a heated election season.

Maduro is seeking a third six-year term in office, and critics have accused him of attempting to derail and intimidate popular opposition candidates in order to secure a victory.

Last week, for instance, Maduro’s administration arrested two opposition figures and issued warrants for the detention of approximately six more.

While the statement from Argentina did not name the opposition figures taking shelter in the Caracas embassy, they are believed to be among those facing arrest.

The statement also did not disclose how many Venezuelans sought protection in the embassy.

Opposition setbacks

With Venezuela’s presidential election approaching on July 28, the opposition coalition — called the Plataforma Unitaria Democratica (PUD) or the Democratic Unitary Platform — has faced setback after setback.

In July, the Venezuelan government expanded a ban against popular opposition leader María Corina Machado, preventing her from holding public office.

She had recently launched her presidential campaign at the time, and she was polling as the frontrunner among candidates to represent the opposition in the 2024 presidential race.

A few months later, in October, Machado made good on the promise of her poll numbers: She won the opposition primary in a landslide, with more than 93 percent of the vote.

But Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal in January upheld the ban against her, accusing her of corruption and of supporting United States sanctions against the country.

With her candidacy effectively scuttled, Machado named 80-year-old professor Corina Yoris on Friday to be her replacement to represent the opposition.

Yoris’s candidacy was short-lived, however: She missed a Monday deadline to register for the vote, claiming that her efforts to sign up on the election authority’s online platform were blocked by Maduro’s allies in the agency.

“They haven’t let us get in,” Omar Barboza, an opposition official, told the media.

Late on Tuesday, the opposition coalition said it was able to “provisionally register” a third candidate, diplomat Edmundo Gonzalez. But critics have questioned what further roadblocks may arise — and how the confusion may affect the race.

International response

The barriers to opposition figures participating in the July presidential race — and the recent spate of arrests — have raised international concerns about the validity of Venezuela’s upcoming elections.

In October, President Maduro agreed to a deal — known as the Barbados Agreement — that would lay the groundwork for a free and fair election in July.

It required Venezuela to respect the right of political groups to chose their own candidates freely. The agreement would also allow international observers and media to participate in monitoring and covering the vote.

In exchange, the United States pledged to lift certain sanctions against Venezuela’s oil industry, a pillar of its economy.

But the US has warned that the recent actions against Venezuela’s opposition coalition could threaten relief from those sanctions, and it has recently reimposed some of the restrictions. Brazil and other countries have likewise articulated concerns about the the upcoming election.

Maduro, meanwhile, has accused the opposition of attempting to destabilise his government and foment violence against him. He has also sought to frame the opposition as a tool of international forces, such as the US.

But the president and his administration have been widely accused of using torture, arbitrary detention and other human rights abuses to suppress dissent.

“Authorities harass, persecute, and jail union workers, journalists and human rights defenders, restricting civic space,” the nonprofit Human Rights Watch wrote in its 2023 country report.

Argentinian President Milei, a vocal critic of left-leaning governments, echoed calls for Venezuela to hold transparent elections with his Tuesday statement.

“President Javier Milei urges the socialist Nicolas Maduro to ensure the security and well-being of the Venezuelan people, as well as to call transparent, free, democratic and competitive elections, without proscriptions of any kind,” it read.

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‘Obvious’ Sydney mall killer targeted women, Australian police say

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New South Wales Police commissioner says videos of the attack ‘speak for themselves’.

Australian police have said they believe a man who fatally six stabbed people at a busy Sydney shopping centre specifically targeted women.

Five women and one man were killed on Saturday when a 40-year-old man went on a stabbing spree in the beach suburb of Bondi.

The women killed in the attack were identified as a 55-year-old designer, a 47-year-old architect and volunteer surf lifesaver, the 25-year-old daughter of an entrepreneur, a 27-year-old student from China and a 38-year-old new mother.

A 30-year-old Pakistani security guard, who reportedly tried to stop the attacker, was the only man killed in the attack.

The majority of those injured in the attack were also women.

New South Wales state Police Commissioner Karen Webb said on Monday that it was “obvious” the suspected attacker, Joel Cauchi, singled out women.

“It’s obvious to me, it’s obvious to detectives that seems to be an area of interest that the offender focused on women and avoided the men,” Webb told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“The videos speak for themselves, don’t they? That’s certainly a line for inquiry for us.”

Webb said officers were in the process of interviewing people close to Cauchi to gain “some insight into what he might have been thinking”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the gender breakdown of the victims was “concerning”.

“The gender breakdown is of course concerning – each and every victim here is mourned,” he told ABC radio.

Videos shared on social media showed Cauchi, wearing shorts and an Australian national rugby league jersey, targeting mostly female victims as he rampaged through Westfield Bondi Junction shopping complex.

The attack was brought to an end when police inspector Amy Scott shot him dead.

Australia’s national flag has been set at half-mast at major venues, including the Parliament House and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, in honour of the victims.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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US military says it destroyed dozens of drones fired from Iran, Yemen

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US Central Command says it hit more than 80 one-way attack drones aimed at Israel.

The United States has destroyed dozens of drones and at least six ballistic missiles aimed at Israel from Iran and Yemen, its military has said.

US forces hit more than 80 one-way attack drones, including seven UAVs targeted on the ground prior to launch, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Monday.

“Iran’s continued unprecedented, malign, and reckless behaviour endangers regional stability and the safety of U.S. and coalition forces,” CENTCOM said in a post on X

“CENTCOM remains postured to support Israel’s defense against these dangerous actions by Iran. We will continue to work with all our regional partners to increase regional security.”

CENTCOM made the announcement after Iran late on Saturday launched its first-ever attack on Israeli territory in retaliation for a suspected Israeli attack on its embassy in Syria.

The attack involving more than 300 drones and missiles caused only modest damage as most were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system or the US and its partners.

Defense of Israel Activities Update

On April 13 and the morning of April 14, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces, supported by U.S. European Command destroyers, successfully engaged and destroyed more than 80 one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAV) and at least six… pic.twitter.com/QYyk01o1Vs

— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) April 14, 2024

US President Joe Biden earlier praised US forces for their “extraordinary skill” in helping Israel take down “nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles.”

Biden described US support for Israel’s self-defence as “ironclad” but warned that Washington would not join any retaliatory action taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government against Tehran.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said US forces “remain postured to protect US troops and partners in the region, provide further support for Israel’s defence, and enhance regional stability.”

The threat of all-out war between Israel and Iran has put the region on tenterhooks, prompting calls for restraint from Middle Eastern neighbours and major powers.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday warned that the Middle East was on “the brink”.

“The people of the region are confronting a real danger of a devastating full-scale conflict. Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate,” Guterres told a UN Security Council meeting convened in response to the Iranian attack.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Iran claims ‘right to self-defence’ in Israel attack

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Video Duration 01 minutes 24 seconds

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Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations says his country’s drone and missile attack against Israel was ‘in the exercise of Iran’s inherent right to self-defence’. Saeid Iravani told the UN Security Council Iran is not seeking to escalate conflict in the region.

Published On 15 Apr 2024

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