"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

Father God, thank you for the love of the truth you have given me. Please bless me with the wisdom, knowledge and discernment needed to always present the truth in an attitude of grace and love. Use this blog and Northwoods Ministries for your glory. Help us all to read and to study Your Word without preconceived notions, but rather, let scripture interpret scripture in the presence of the Holy Spirit. All praise to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Please note: All my writings and comments appear in bold italics in this colour

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Swede Fined $500 for Pointing Out Flaw in US Traffic Lights

Instead of thanking the engineer, Oregon circled the wagons and shot him with a $500 fine, an absurdity of the first order

Libertarians defend Swede fined $500 for pointing out flaw in US traffic lights

© InstituteForJustice / YouTube

An engineer fined for disclosing the results of his independent investigation into the formula that regulates traffic lights has received legal backing from a law group claiming a violation of his First Amendment free speech rights.

In early 2015 Mats Järlström discovered a flaw in the mathematical formula used to regulate the timing of US traffic lights but was handed a $500 fine after disclosing his findings to authorities.

The Swedish electronics engineer, who has lived in the US for over 20 years, realized the flaw in the traffic systems after his wife received a fine from an automated traffic camera in Oregon.

Upon digging into the intriguing world of traffic light timing mathematics, Järlström concluded that a formula designed in 1959 accounted for only two yellow light scenarios: driving straight through, or stopping.

Following his discovery, the Swede set about trying to improve the formula by managing the transition time from yellow to red, so that a driver can travel through an intersection with a yellow light to slow down, without the system thinking they have broken a red light.

In 2015, Järlström decided it would be a good idea to share his findings with the media, policymakers and those interested in traffic technology but this is where the engineer ran into some difficulty.

On the back of Järlström’s discovery, the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying opened an investigation in August 2016 and announced that the curious Swede had engaged in unlicensed engineering and handed him a $500 fine which he duly paid.

Every state in the US regulates the practice of engineering and as Järlström isn’t licensed in the state he received the fine. He now fears that his ongoing interest in traffic light timing may land him with more fines or even jail time.

What is the purpose of the practice of ensuring engineers are licensed? Isn't it so that structures are not created that are unsafe? Since nothing was created here, how can Järlström's work be of any threat to anyone. The only threat is that his work might cause some work and expense for municipalities in Oregan which would result in fairer policing at intersections. 

It's a bit ridiculous that an engineer licensed in one state cannot practice in another, anyway. Are there really significant differences in standards? Is there one state that allows half-wits to be licensed engineers? Is this simply a money-grabbing construct for state authorities?

The engineer, buoyed by positive feedback after presenting his radical traffic light theories at a 2016 Institute of Transportation Engineers meeting, is now working on a potentially fine-inducing paper, though this time he has back up.

On his behalf, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest legal group, filed a federal lawsuit last week in Portland’s US District Court, challenging the Beaver State’s Professional Engineer Registration Act.

The lawsuit claims that the act is in violation of Järlström's First Amendment right to free speech.

“Criticizing the government’s engineering isn’t a crime; it’s a constitutional right,” Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, said in a press release.

“Under the First Amendment, you don’t need to be a licensed lawyer to write an article critical of a Supreme Court decision, you don’t need to be a licensed landscape architect to create a gardening blog, and you don’t need to be a licensed engineer to talk about traffic lights.”

“Whether or not you use math, criticizing the government is a core constitutional right that cannot be hampered by onerous licensing requirements,” said Gedge.

In an interview with The Register, Järlström said he felt “violated that I can't state who I am by saying 'I'm an engineer' and I can't even talk about traffic signals."

“I have this information I want to get out, however, I am literally blocked. I can be punished, even jailed for sharing this information and I think it's outrageous. We need to have freedom of speech to promote innovation," he added.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bias is Bipartisan: Studies find Liberals just as Narrow-Minded as Conservatives

We conservatives already knew this, but it's probably a big surprise to liberals.
I wonder if any will read this?

© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

New scientific research has revealed that liberals – like conservatives – are just as likely to avoid opinions they dislike.

Research has exploded the popularly held view that people with a liberal stance on political issues are more rational than their conservative counterparts. Two new studies have revealed that bias is one of the few issues that gets bipartisan support.

The snappily titled paper, Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid exposure to one another's opinions’, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that liberals were just as averse to listening to opposing viewpoints on controversial issues as their conservative counterparts.

The aversion applied to issues such as same-sex marriage, elections, marijuana, climate change, guns and abortion.

Interestingly, the researchers found that around two out of every three people gave up a chance to win extra money so they could avoid hearing opinions that differ from their own.

A separate paper, At Least Bias Is Bipartisan: A Meta-Analytic Comparison of Partisan Bias in Liberals and Conservatives, which is actually a combination of 41 studies, reached the same conclusion, finding no difference in partisanship between liberals and conservatives.

In an article in the New Scientist, science writer Alex Berezow uses the example of progressive bastion Seattle to explode some of the myths surrounding liberals’ supposed love of science and rational thinking. Berezow notes that Seattle children have a lower polio vaccination rate than Rwanda and only five states have a lower MMR vaccination rate than Washington.

"If liberalism translated into embracing science, we would expect places like Seattle to have vaccination rates of 100 per cent," Berezow says. He notes that the city also rejects GMOs and other facets of biotechnology.

Berezow argues that the rise of partisan news outlets and social media has contributed to a narrowing in the range of opinions people are exposed to because it enables people to create alternative realities “full of self-reinforcing platitudes and free of any pesky information that might upset fragile world views.”

Mexico's War with Drug Cartels; Are They Winning or Losing?

7 Mexican Leaders with Ties to Drug Cartels

Enrique Pena Nieto (Juan Mabromata / AFP / Getty)Juan Mabromata / AFP / Getty
by ILDEFONSO ORTIZ AND BRANDON DARBY 

Many of Mexico’s top leaders are linked to the brutal drug cartels overrunning their country. As Mexico slips further into a failed narco-state, top politicians’ links with drug cartels possibly help explain why.


1. Enrique Peña Nieto

Despite his many campaign promises, the current Mexican president has been unable to put a halt to the raging cartel violence taking place in his country; or has he been unwilling?

As a candidate and during his term in office, Peña Nieto has openly supported many of the cartel linked politicians who are now in trouble with the law. As Breitbart Texas reported, operators from the Juarez Cartel allegedly funneled illicit funds into Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential bid. The funds were used to buy cash cards that were then given to citizens in exchange for their votes. The scandal became known as Monexgate and was originally discovered by famed Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui.

2. Tomas Yarrington

The former governor of Tamaulipas is wanted by the U.S. Department of Justice on multiple drug trafficking and money laundering charges. As Breitbart Texas reported, he allowed the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas to operate in his state in exchange for cartel bribes. After his term as governor, Yarrington worked with Los Zetas and the Beltran Leyva Cartel to move drugs through Veracruz. He was recently arrested in Italy and is awaiting extradition to the U.S. to stand trial.

3. Eugenio Hernandez

A second governor of Tamaulipas is wanted by the U.S. Department of Justice on multiple money laundering and bank fraud charges. As Breitbart Texas reported, Hernandez is believed to have continued Yarrington’s scheme of receiving cartel bribes as well as expanding a network used to embezzle government funds from contracts with ghost companies. While Hernandez is a wanted fugitive in the U.S., in Mexico he has a clean record and is not sought by that country’s law enforcement agencies. As Breitbart Texas first reported in a story that then Wall Street Journal tried to take credit for, the Mexican government had been providing both Hernandez and Yarrington with police officers as their personal bodyguards. Hernandez continues to live in Mexico.

4. Javier Duarte

The former governor of Veracruz has been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, embezzlement and other charges by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office; he is not wanted by U.S. authorities. As reported by Breitbart Texas, Duarte was recently arrested in Guatemala and is fighting Mexico’s extradition efforts. Duarte is accused of embezzling massive amounts of money from the state’s coffers. The former governor has also been singled out by news organizations for the impunity with which journalists were killed in his state.

5. Cesar Duarte Jaquez

The former governor of Chihuahua is currently a wanted fugitive in his own country on warrants accusing him of embezzlement. As Breitbart Texas reported, the current governor or Chihuahua has stated that Duarte crossed into Texas to hide from prosecution. A series of investigations by the late journalist Miroslava Breach uncovered the ties between Duarte’s party the Institutional Revolutionary Party and Mexican drug cartels. Breach was killed after reporting that the PRI was trying to have the mother in law of a top Juarez Cartel boss run for mayor, Breitbart Texas reported. 

6. Humberto Moreira

The former governor of the border state of Coahuila Humberto Moreira, has been singled out as having protected Los Zetas by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Breitbart Texas reported.

The former governor is trying to run for Mexico’s congress under the Partido Joven (Young Party) where he has labeled himself as El Valiente or the Brave one. Moreira and various state officials have been fingered in U.S. court testimony and documents as having protected the key leaders of the Los Zetas cartel in exchange for bribes.

Moreira was arrested in Spain in early 2016 on money laundering charges. During the various hearing tied to the case, Spanish prosecutors stated that Moreira had been a surrogate for the Los Zetas cartel; the information for the statements was based on an ongoing investigation by U.S. federal agencies. Moreira had been the PRI party leader during Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential bid. as Breitbart Texas reported, the Mexican government applied political pressure in order to get his release; eventually, Spain released Moreira claiming he was clear of the charges in that country.

7. Jesus Reyna

The interim governor of Michoacan remains jailed on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity.  The case against Reyna began in 2014 when a leaked video revealed a series of interactions between the politician and Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, the former leader of the Knights Templar – Familia Michoacana Cartel. Reyna served as interim governor of Michoacan for six months and had a long history of having served as state party chair for the PRI.


Nevertheless, Cartel heads are rolling as government appears to be cracking down

'El Chito,' leader of Mexican drug cartel, arrested in Juarez

April 28 (UPI) -- The Mexican government arrested the leader of the La Linea drug cartel and recovered a stash of narcotics after a raid in the border city of Juarez, authorities said.

Miguel Angel Amaya Loya, known by the street name "El Chito," was arrested along with a top lieutenant, the Mexican government said. Federal agents raided two homes in the city. They also recovered a package of cocaine and a 4 pounds of methamphetamine hidden inside a bathroom wall in one of the homes, according to a statement by the federal government. A cache of weapons was also recovered.


Top drug cartel leaders killed in Mexico near US border

Two leaders of rival drug cartels have been killed in clashes with federal forces, officials said. Their deaths have caused unrest in a Mexican border town, with cartel supporters blocking roads and torching businesses.

Mexican authorities on Saturday announced that two top drug traffickers had been killed in a shootout with federal forces in the northern border state of Tamaulipas.

"Two key targets were shot down [in separate instances] last night in Reynosa and the state capital. The government of Tamaulipas and federal forces will not relent against crime," the local government said in a tweet.

The deaths of the drug traffickers caused unrest in the border town of Reynosa. Supporters of the suspects' drug cartels blocked off several roads in the Mexican town, engaging in firefights with police and setting fire to local businesses, authorities said.

Julian Loisa Salinas, who went by the name "Comandante Toro" as leader of the Gulf cartel, was shot dead in Reynosa, while rival leader Francisco "Pancho" Carreon of the Zetas cartel was killed in the Tamaulipas state capital of Ciudad Victoria, according to authorities. 

'Sophisticated drug networks'

Mexico's bloody drug war has spanned a decade, with estimates placing the death toll of cartel-related violence at approximately 120,000 from 2006 to 2012, not including disappearances.

"Weak judicial and police institutions, as well as proximity to the world's largest consumer economy, have made Mexico the hub of one of the world's most sophisticated drug networks," said the US-based think-tank Council on Foreign Relations in a report.

Despite deteriorating diplomatic relations, US President Donald trump has vowed to assist Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration in tackling drug cartels and curbing the flow of narcotics into the US.

Killings in Mexico near record levels as drug cartel violence spreads 

Violence in Mexico is up near record levels after 35 people were killed this weekend, as officials point to a worsening of gang and cartel violence across the country.

The month of March saw over 2,000 homicides, the highest body count since 2011 when Mexico was coping with massive cartel violence. Now, unlike previous spikes in bloodshed, the killings are not confined to any one particular area or state. Instead, bodies are turning up across Mexico.


5 Mexican Cartel Bosses Who Were Caught Hiding in Texas
Breitbart Texas / Cartel Chronicles
by ILDEFONSO ORTIZ AND BRANDON DARBY

Mexican cartel bosses have a history of seeking a safe haven in the United States in an apparent effort to avoid dying at the hands of their rivals or having to shoot it out with Mexican military forces. U.S. law enforcement officers arrested several key cartel bosses after they sought refuge in Texas.

It is not clear how many Mexican cartel bosses have in fact crossed or continue to cross into the U.S. and avoid being captured. Authorities arrested the following five cartel leaders in South Texas:

1– Rafael Cardenas Vela AKA El Junior

One of the top leaders in the Gulf Cartel, and nephew of Los Zetas founder Osiel Cardenas Guillen. As Breitbart Texas reported, Cardenas Vela was known as a fierce warlord who commanded crews of cartel hitmen that rode in armored trucks and had access to rocket launchers, automatic weapons, and explosives. Fearing a certain death at the hands of his rivals, Cardenas ultimately fled to the United States in May 2011. He maintained control of the Matamoros Plaza from a series of security houses in the Texas border cities of Rio Hondo and Brownsville through the use of daily e-mails to key leadership within the Cartel. 

Federal agents arrested El Junior in October 2011 him along with two of his key bodyguards as he was making his way to South Padre Island from Port Isabel, Texas, where he had a luxury condominium. According to federal prosecutors, Cardenas Vela had approximately 500 gunmen men in Mexico ready to respond to his call.

2– Luis Alberto Blanco Flores AKA Pelochas or M-28

The current leader of the Gulf Cartel in the border city of Rio Bravo fled to the U.S. in 2010 along with fellow Gulf Cartel members Oscar “El Apache” Castillo Flores and others to escape certain death at the hands of their rivals. At the time, the Gulf Cartel underwent a series of internal conflicts that led to the murder of key leaders. Blanco Flores worked for Castillo Flores and both men fled to Brownsville where eventually federal authorities arrested them, Breitbart Texas previously reported. Both cartel leaders were only charged with illegal re-entry and released after serving two years in prison.

Castillo Flores was gunned down in a firefight in 2012, while Blanco Flores kept climbing the ladder within the leadership of the Gulf Cartel.  During his illegal re-entry trial, Blanco Flores was seen loudly sobbing in court when he saw his mother sitting in the federal courtroom in Brownsville.

3– Juan Saenz-Tamez AKA Panochitas

The former leader of the Gulf Cartel was arrested in October 2014 in the border city of Edinburg. In a story first reported by Breitbart Texas, Juan “El Panochitas” Saenz-Tamez was arrested by federal authorities after the cartel leader had been hiding in Texas in an apparent effort to avoid the ongoing rivalry between cartel forces and a possible capture by Mexican authorities. Tamez’s charges came from a federal indictment from Beaumont, Texas, where he eventually pleaded guilty to multiple drug conspiracy charges.

4– Jose Luis Zuniga AKA El Wicho

A former key leader and regional boss for the Gulf Cartel, El Wicho was arrested by federal authorities in Santa Maria, Texas in 2011. At the time of his arrest, Zuñiga had a .38 caliber jeweled handgun valued at close to $50,000. 

As Breitbart Texas reported, El Wicho had a strike team of 60 SUVs with as many as 240 gunmen ready to answer to his call.

5– Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon

One of the key commanders of the Gulf Cartel, he was arrested in Texas in October 2011 when he fled to rural Cameron County. According to the FBI, Rincon and his key security detail fled to the United States rather than face a likely death at the hands of their rivals.

According to testimony from his trial, Rincon and the Gulf Cartel were able to remain in control of northern Mexico by bribing Mexican law enforcement, some elements of the Mexican military, the news media, and elected public officials. In addition to unlimited funds, Rincon also had Rincon-Rincon also had at least 100 individuals at his disposal armed with semi-automatic rifles, body armor, grenades, and .50 Caliber automatic rifles, and some had rocket launchers. The Gulf Cartel commander is serving a life sentence in federal prison.


17 Alleged Mexican Cartel Operatives Charged in Colorado
Breitbart Texas / Cartel Chronicles
by RYAN SAAVEDRA 

A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging 17 defendants for drug trafficking in direct connection with a Mexican drug cartel.

The arrests and indictments of the 17 defendants were the result of a year-long investigation into a Mexican drug cartel operation that smuggled narcotics into the United States from California to Colorado, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

Jeff Dorschner, Spokesman for the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, told Breitbart Texas, “During the course of this investigation law enforcement determined that a Mexican Cartel was involved. The identity of that cartel is not being released as it remains the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Sinaloa Mexican Drug Cartel is known to be the dominant drug cartel in both California and Colorado.

Of the 17 defendants, 11 are from Mexico, four from El Salvador, and two are from California. Seven of the defendants are considered fugitives.

The defendants are alleged to have brought large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine into the United States through California using secret compartments in vehicles. The drugs were kept in stash houses in Aurora, Colorado, before being distributed at a local grocery store.

A money transfer station at the grocery store was used to send some of the proceeds back to Mexico. The rest of the funds were smuggled back in secret vehicle compartments.

“We are committed to dismantling and removing the threat posed by these criminal organizations flooding American communities with dangerous narcotics,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

“This organization is alleged to have moved large amounts of meth and cocaine from Mexico to Colorado, with devastating impact on communities in their wake. I want to congratulate the outstanding federal, state, and local law enforcement cooperation that resulted in this highly successful operation. Replicating this kind of aggressive law enforcement take down is critical to breaking the backs of these criminal organizations.”

The Defendants from Mexico are: Jose Tapia-Rubio, 58, (naturalized); Selestino Hernandez-Mayo, 45; Fredy Paz-Herrera, age unknown; “Bancholas”, age unknown, (thought to be from Mexico); Rodrigo Mora-Sanchez, 49, (naturalized); Oscar Mora-Campos, age unknown; Eduardo Jimenez-Sanchez, 37; “Changuito”, age unknown, (thought to be from Mexico); “Um-9584”, age unknown, (thought to be from Mexico); Leopoldo Rodriguez-Padilla, Age Unknown; And Heberto Mora-Sanchez, 43.

The Defendants from El Salvador are Lara Zamora-Cruz, age unknown; Claudia Lisseth-Lara, 41, (naturalized); Vilma L. Zamora, 67; and Jose Chica-Orellana, age unknown.

The Defendants from California are Juan Carlos Medina-Soberanis, 31; and Erik Parra.

The indictment contains 45 counts, including an asset forfeiture allegation against the stash houses that were used to hide the drugs.


High-ranking Mexican police official accused of involvement with drug cartel

According to Yahoo news, in a major embarrassment for Mexican law enforcement, U.S. prosecutors said in documents made public Wednesday that the commander of a Mexican police intelligence-sharing unit was passing information on a DEA investigation to the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in exchange for millions of dollars.

Ivan Reyes Arzate, 45, was named in a U.S. district court indictment, just hours after Mexican federal police commissioner Manelich Castilla revealed that an unnamed agent had been charged with obstructing an investigation.

What Castilla did not say was that Reyes Arzate was the commander of a federal police sensitive investigative unit. The special units, known as SIUs, were formed starting in the 1990s precisely to create more secure groups that the U.S. could feel comfortable sharing intelligence with. Castilla said Reyes Arzate had been fired in November. He is in U.S. custody.


Jalisco drug cartel lieutenant 'El Terrible' arrested in Mexico with a rifle and 117 'wrappings of cocaine'

By Anna Hopkins For Dailymail.com and Associated Press

Federal prosecutors in Mexico say they have apprehended a high-ranking operator of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel.

Ivan Margarito Esquivel Garcia, also known as 'El Terrible,' was caught in the Pacific coast state of Colima, the prosecutors' office said on Sunday.

Esquivel Garcia, 28, allegedly led the cartel's activities in the state of Colima and portions of the nearby state of Michoacan. 

Garcia was captured with a rifle and 117 'wrappings' of cocaine, El Universal reported.

Esquivel Garcia is wanted for the March 4 murder of Carlos Sierra Santana, a founder and leader of a rival gang, 'The Viagras.'

The Attorney General of Mexico said that the arrest was executed without any shots being fired. 

The Jalisco cartel is considered Mexico's fastest-growing gangs, and one of its most violent.

The group were formerly underlings of 'El Chapo's' notorious gang, the Sinaloa Cartel, Business Insider reported. Despite their humble beginnings, their exceedingly violent tactics have catapulted Jalisco to rival status with Sinaloa.

The group pushed the murder rate in Mexico to historic numbers, with 3,800 killings taking place between July and August of 2016. 


'El Chapo' arrest sparks homicide surge as factions fight to fill vacuum
Alan Gomez , USA TODAY

Last year’s capture of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán led to a surge in homicides in Mexico as cartel leaders fought to fill the vacuum created by his arrest.

The apprehension of Guzmán in January 2016 was hailed by Mexican and U.S. officials as a watershed moment in the war on drugs. But Mexico's homicide rate for the year spiked to 21.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, a steep rise from 17.5 in 2015 that rivals record numbers earlier in the decade, according to a report released Friday by the Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego.

Mexico had just started emerging from its bloody battle with drug cartels, with murder rates dropping for four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014. After the removal of Guzmán, violence is back on the rise. The drug lord was extradited to the United States in January to face criminal charges for his leadership of the trafficking syndicate known as the Sinaloa Cartel.

"It's kind of two steps forward, one step back," said David Shirk, director of the Justice in Mexico Project and co-author of the report. "We took out a very powerful and important drug trafficker. But as a result, we have destabilized the ecosystem of organized crime in a way that has led to internal struggles within the Sinaloa Cartel, and encroachment from other organizations that would like to take over their business."

The spike in violence also helps explain why the United States is seeing a resurgence in heroin use. The problem has become so widespread that President Trump created a national opioid addiction commission. On Wednesday he hosted a White House "listening session" with addicts, including one recovering heroin addict.

Shirk said the battles between Mexican drug cartels have upset the "traditional" drug routes — including cocaine — that originate in South America and funnel through Mexico to the U.S. That has made it more difficult for American users to find cocaine, opening the door for heroin and other opioids, which can be produced in Mexico and smuggled more easily into the U.S.

Heroin profits are smaller, Shirk said, but they provide those cartels with quick and easy cash as they focus on fighting for control of territories left vacant by Guzmán's arrest.

"When you fragment drug trafficking organizations, they're going to look for readily available products," Shirk said.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trump is Puppet of US ‘Deep State,’ has No ‘Own’ Foreign Policy – Assad

Some will accuse me of blowing Assad's trumpet here, but the fact is I have made similar remarks many times in the past. I'm not a fan of Assad; he is evil and cruel. I am a fan of the truth, and some of Assad's remarks are very close to the truth, some, not-so-much.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) and US President Donald Trump © Reuters

US president Donald Trump is not a truly independent political leader but merely a puppet of US corporations, military and intelligence, and who serves their interests, Syrian President Bashar Assad has told the Latin American TeleSUR TV network.

Trump pursues “no own policies” but only executes the decisions made by the “intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, the big arms manufacturers, oil companies, and financial institutions,” the Syrian leader said in an exclusive interview with TeleSUR.

"As we have seen in the past few weeks, he changed his rhetoric completely and subjected himself to the terms of the deep American state, or the deep American regime," Assad added.

This was obvious to me when Trump began appointing establishment figures to high positions in his government. It became more obvious when he began reversing decisions upon which he campaigned. America's attempt to elect an anti-establishment President failed miserably as it surely had to. The President does not run this country; Assad correctly identifies who does.

He referred to the fact that Trump came to power on a political platform promising a departure from the interventionist policy of the previous US president, Barack Obama, but soon forgot his promises and ordered a missile strike against the Syrian air base following a chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib province.

That may explain why Assad thought he could get away with using Sarin gas on Syrians. He assumed Trump would keep his word and not intervene. He, obviously, knew nothing of Trump.

The Syrian president also said that it is “a complete waste of time to make an assessment of the American president’s foreign policy” as “he might say something” but what he really does depends on “what these [US military and business] institutions dictate to him.”

He also added that it “is not new” and “has been ongoing American policy for decades.”

"This is what characterizes American politicians: they lie on a daily basis... That’s why we shouldn’t believe what the Pentagon or any other American institution says because they say things which serve their policies, not things which reflect reality and the facts on the ground,” Assad told TeleSUR.

ALL politicians lie on a daily basis, not just Americans.

He went on to say that the US continues to pursue its age-long policy aimed at establishing and maintaining a global hegemony by turning all countries that oppose it into war zones.

"The United States always seeks to control all the states of the world without exception. It does not accept allies, regardless of whether they are developed states as those in the Western bloc or other states of the world," the Syrian leader explained.

He goes too far here, much too far. If you look at most of the countries where there are war zones, they are almost all Muslim and most of the fighting is caused by Jihadists wanting the state to be even more Muslim than it already is. America has little or nothing to do with beginning those wars.

He also added that “what is happening to Syria, to Korea, to Iran, to Russia, and maybe to Venezuela now, aims at re-imposing American hegemony on the world because they believe that this hegemony is under threat now, which consequently threatens the interests of American economic and political elites.”

What is happening in Venezuela has to do with a collapsing economy because of an incompetent, socialist leader. The people are hungry!

North Korea and Iran are threats, not to the American economy, but to American allies like South Korea and Israel, and even to America itself.

Russia is a different issue. NATO and the cast of characters Assad lists above are, I believe, largely responsible for creating a new version of the 'cold war' by demonizing Russia and propagandizing an imminent threat of invasion to all surrounding countries. This is lees about a Russian threat than about NATO creating a reason for its existence. It is basically obsolete and should be shut-down. But as long as NATO is mobilizing troops, amassing them along Russian borders, arms manufacturers are moving inventory, and that's what it's all about.

Assad expressed similar views in an interview with Russia’s Sputnik news agency about a week ago. “The regime in the United States hasn't changed,” he said, adding, “since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has been attacking different countries in different ways without taking into consideration the Security Council or the United Nations.”

He also said that for the US, “the end justifies the means, no values, no morals at all, anything could happen.”

Despite his criticism, Assad once again confirmed the readiness of the Syrian government to cooperate with the US if it could change its attitude towards respecting other countries’ sovereignty and that of Syria in particular.

If respecting sovereignty means allowing Assad to use chemical weapons, it's not going to happen. Notice, there was no mention of them in this article.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Venezuela to Leave ‘Interventionist’ OAS Group Amid Deadly Anti-Govt Protests

© Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

Caracas has decided to withdraw its membership from the Organization of American States after the body voted to “breach sovereignty” and convene an emergency meeting over the ongoing violent crisis in Venezuela that has already resulted in 29 deaths.

The Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Delcy Rodriguez, announced that the Latin American country will begin the process of exiting OAS after the organization convened a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Venezuela.

The decision by the OAS' Permanent Council was passed by 19 votes to 10, with one abstention and one absence.

The foreign ministry and President Nicolas Maduro will forward a letter to the OAS on Thursday stating that "Venezuela will not participate in any activities that promote interventionism," Rodriguez said, adding that the exit process will take 24 months.

Addressing the nation that has been engulfed in violence, Rodriguez asserted that the OAS seeks to criminalize the Venezuelan government and destabilize its constitutional democracy in order to facilitate foreign intervention. The country's chief diplomat said that OAS does not have the consent of the affected country to intervene in domestic affairs.

Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s representative to the Organization of American States, said that the fate of the South American nation will never be decided by institutions such as the OAS or Washington.

Protests in the country have been ongoing in Venezuela since March 29, after the Supreme Court ruled to take over the duties of the National Assembly, a ruling many saw as undemocratic. Although the Supreme Court repealed the ruling three days later, this was not enough to assuage anti-government protesters.

The opposition has demanded the government hold fresh elections as soon as possible. President Maduro has agreed but a date has yet to be set.

At least 29 people have died in clashes so far this month, according to Reuters, as many of the rallies erupted in violence and vandalism.

Clashes erupted in Caracas again on Wednesday after National Guard troops and police blocked a highway in the area of the capital where thousands demonstrated. Venezuelan police fired tear gas at stone-throwing anti-government protesters as masked youths picked up tear gas canisters to hurl back at security forces.

While police stopped protesters advancing, government supporters staged a counter-rally near the presidential palace in central Caracas.

Maduro's opponents are demanding the release of imprisoned protesters, humanitarian aid to help with food and medicine shortages, as well as autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.

Maduro claims recent protests are nothing more than opposition efforts to stir up violence and topple his government. Bolivian President Evo Morales agrees with his counterpart that the anti-government protests in Venezuela are “a coup d’etat, driven by the right.”

There could be some truth in what he is saying, but it's more likely that it is just socialist paranoia. The Venezuelan economy is collapsing and Maduro's response is to entrench himself in power. He is incompetent and probably corrupt (who in South America isn't), and he is the last person Venezuela needs in power to fix the economy. The people are getting hungry and Morales blames outsiders for stirring up the people. 

“I feel sad that the Organization of American States [OAS] keeps on its tradition of coups, which is the primary means of the North American empire,” Morales said in an interview with RT.

France Offers Evidence Syria was Behind Nerve Gas Attack

Can Assad really be that stupid?
American and UK intelligence have proven themselves unreliable to me. So my first reaction is to take anything that comes out of either outfit with a large grain of salt.

That Assad would risk alienating Trump just days after Trump announced that Assad would not have to go to get a settlement in Syria is unconscionably stupid. Is Assad that stupid? The French think so. They may be right, or not. I'm not fully convinced yet, but getting closer.

Chemical analysis indicates the nerve gas used in the April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun was identical to that used previously by the Syrian military.
By Ed Adamczyk  

The French government announced Wednesday it has proof Syria was responsible for a 
nerve gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, in which at least 87 people died. 
Photo by Mohammed Badra/EPA

UPI  -- The French government has proof indicating the Syrian air force dropped bombs containing the nerve gas Sarin on a civilian population, it said Wednesday.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said samples taken from the April 4 attack on rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun bear the same chemical signature of Sarin made by the Syrian government, and match samples from a prior chemical attack.

"We have definite sources that the procedure used to make the Sarin sampled is typical of the methods developed in Syrian laboratories. This method bears the signature of the regime, and that is what has allowed us to establish its responsibility in this attack."

The report by France's intelligence agency, declassified Wednesday, concludes that the Sarin was manufactured by the Syrian government. It said the Sarin found in Khan Sheikhoun was produced in the same process as Sarin found in an unexploded grenade dropped by a Syrian government helicopter in 2013.

At least 87 people died, and hundreds more exhibited symptoms of a reaction to a nerve agent, in the attack. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has dismissed the incident as a fabrication. Last week the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also announced it has "incontrovertible" evidence that Syria conducted the attack.

"Neither do the French services assess that the theory of a staged attack or manipulation by the opposition is credible, particularly because of the massive influx in a very limited time towards hospitals in Syria and Turkey, and the simultaneous, massive uploading of videos showing symptoms of the use of neurotoxic agents," the report said.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Marine Le Pen Steps Down at National Front to Boost Run for Presidency

After qualifying for run-off in France's presidential election,
she seeks to build wider appeal
CBC News

After qualifying for the second round of voting in the presidential election, Marine Le Pen has decided to step down as president of her party, the National Front. (Kamil Zihnioglu/Associated Press)

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has announced that she is stepping down as leader of the National Front, the party she has helmed since 2011.

The announcement came a day after Le Pen came second to centrist Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the French presidential election, securing her a chance to bid for the presidency.

Monday's move may be a way for the 48-year-old candidate to embrace a wider range of potential voters ahead of the May 7 run-off between herself and Macron.

She took 21.3 per cent of the vote on Sunday, to Macron's 24.01 per cent.

"Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate," she said on French public television news.

She may be trying to distance herself from the anti-Semitic and openly racist associations of the National Front, particularly under her father and predecessor Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Marine Le Pen has tried to remake the image of the National Front since she assumed its leadership, expelling many of the old guard leaders who served under her father.

She has built a wider base of support through two election campaigns, coming third in the first round of voting in 2012.

Her own platform, not the party's

She has said the platform she ran on in 2017 is her own and not her party's. If Le Pen wins, she would be France's first woman president.

Le Pen went on the offensive against Macron in her comments Monday. "He is a hysterical, radical 'Europeanist.' He is for total open borders. He says there is no such thing as French culture," she said.

Her campaign so far emphasizes returning French sovereignty, leaving the European Union, clamping down on  free trade, and slashing immigration.

Among her proposals:

Negotiation with Brussels on a new EU and a referendum on EU membership.
Expelling illegal immigrants and reducing legal immigration to 10,000 people per year.
Closing "extremist" mosques.
Fixing the retirement age at 60 and enshrining a 35-hour work week.

However, some doubt whether she has left behind the old remnants of National Front racism and anti-Semitism.

Denunciation by other politicians

On Monday, Israel's president denounced Le Pen for her statement earlier this month denying France was responsible for its role in rounding up French Jews for deportation to Nazi death camps.

Speaking Monday on Israel's Holocaust memorial day, President Reuven Rivlin said he found the comments "uniquely disturbing."

Politicians on the moderate left and right, including French President François Hollande and the losing Socialist and Republican party candidates in Sunday's first-round vote, manoeuvred to block Le Pen's path to power.

In a solemn address from the Elysée Palace, Hollande said he would vote for Macron, his former economy minister, because Le Pen represents "both the danger of the isolation of France and of rupture with the European Union."

Hollande said the far right would "deeply divide France" at a time when the terror threat requires solidarity. "Faced with such a risk, it is not possible to remain silent or to take refuge in indifference," he said.

With files from The Associated Press

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Thousands of Afghan Refugees in Germany Claim to be Former Taliban Fighters – Der Spiegel

© Reuters

The German authorities are now verifying statements of thousands of Afghan refugees, who came to Germany and claimed to be former Taliban militants, the German Der Spiegel weekly reports, adding that criminal investigations have been launched in 70 cases.

Since 2015, several thousands of refugees who came from Afghanistan admitted during interviews with representatives of the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) that they either had contacts with some radical Islamist groups in Afghanistan or directly fought for the extremists, Der Spiegel reports, citing data provided by the BAMF to the German security services.

The weekly also says that the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office has already opened criminal cases against 70 Afghan refugees after verifying their statements. Six asylum seekers have been already arrested, the media reports, adding that legal action against some of the suspects will be initiated next week.

However, it is still unclear if all refugees who declared themselves Taliban fighters indeed fought for the extremists or had links to any radical group. According to Der Spiegel, the German authorities suspect that some asylum seekers may be seeking to boost their prospects of receiving asylum in Germany in this way, as affiliation with the Taliban is punishable with the death penalty in Afghanistan.

In November 2016, it was reported that the German authorities planned to send home some 12,000 Afghans as they considered the security situation in Afghanistan safe enough. Under such circumstances, the refugees might try to indicate that it is not safe for them to be sent back because they would face imminent death at the hands of the authorities.

However, German security services expect a surge in anti-terrorist investigations against alleged Taliban fighters in addition to the inquiries, which were already launched against the members of Islamic State terrorist group in Germany.

The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office warns that it is already “pushed to the limit” by the sheer number of anti-terrorist investigations it has to pursue. In 2016, the agency opened 200 criminal cases against suspected Islamic terrorists, Germany’s Die Welt daily reports.

In early March, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, said that Islamists could carry out terrorist attacks at any time, warning that “the potential of violence-oriented Islamists in Germany is growing steadily and will continue to increase.”

He also said that his agency has as many as 1,600 people on its radar.

In the meantime, one Taliban leader tried to claim asylum in Germany using fake ID papers. Abdul Rauf Mohammed, the former health minister under the Taliban between 1996 and 2001, arrived at Germany's Frankfurt airport from the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, presented a fake passport and applied for asylum for himself and his family members.

However, the German authorities promptly uncovered his true identity and rejected his asylum request, sending him back to Saudi Arabia.

US-led forces, including Germany, invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban from power more than 15 years ago, following the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, the extremist group, which advocates strict Islamist rule, is still active and continues to attack Afghan military and carry out terrorist attacks.

On Friday, more than 100 Afghan soldiers were killed and injured in a Taliban attack on a military base in northern Afghanistan, according to the Afghan Defense Ministry.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Paris Shooting Kills Police Officer, Wounds 2; Islamic State Claims Credit

Paris - under multiculturalism - how do you like it so far? 

"What can you say? It just never ends," President Donald Trump said Thursday.
By Doug G. Ware

French police officers stand guard after a shooting on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France,
on Thursday killed one police officer, wounded two and left the gunman dead. 
Photo by Ian Langsdon/EPA

UPI -- French authorities said a police officer was shot dead Thursday on one of the best-known streets in downtown Paris -- an attack that also left the gunman dead and has investigators working to determine if it was terror-related.

The gunfire began Thursday night on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the area was evacuated, authorities said. Two other police officers were wounded in the shooting.

There were no immediate reports of civilian casualties. Witnesses said the gunman used an AK-47-type rifle in the attack.

"We heard shooting and everyone ran in panic. People were crying," one witness told France's The Local.

France's Prefecture National Police advised people to stay clear of the area, which is located on the western flank of Paris.

Authorities said the gunman, whose name was not immediately disclosed, had been known to police and was the subject of a prior investigation, Sky News reported.

"At first we thought it was firecrackers but then we realized it was a shooting and everyone ran in panic. People were crying," one witness told French television.

French civilians hold their hands in the air after a shooting in which a police officer was shot
on the Champs Elysees in Paris, France, on Thursday. Photo by Ian Langsdon/EPA

"The area was cleared really quickly."

The Islamic State terror group claimed credit for the shooting.

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is a popular shopping and tourist district in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower.

"Our condolences from our country to the people of France," U.S. President Donald Trump said at a joint news conference with Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni Thursday.

"It is happening again," he continued. "It is a very, very terrible thing that's going on in the world today but it looks like another terrorist attack. What can you say? It just never ends. We have to be strong and we have to be vigilant -- and I have been saying it for a long time."

Officials, though, weren't immediately certain whether the shooting was terror-related. Thursday's incident was the second time this year a police officer was shot on the Champs-Élysées -- and came as France prepares for the first round of its presidential election on Sunday.

Paris has been on high alert for months out of concern the city may again be targeted by militants. More than 100 people were killed in a coordinated attack in November 2015. A dozen people were killed ten months earlier in an attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Tuesday, two men were arrested in Marseille on suspicion of plotting various attacks in France.

"If you're in Paris, monitor local news. Champs-Elysées has been closed. Authorities are telling people to avoid the area after a shooting," the U.S. Department of State said in a tweet.


Nikolai Andrushchenko Russian Anti-Corruption Journalist Dies After Beating

Nikolay Andrushchenko, a Russian journalist and civil rights activist known for his controversial corruption accusations, has died in the hospital six weeks after he was beaten by unidentified attackers in St. Petersburg. Police are investigating the case.

The 73-year old Andrushchenko passed away without coming out of a medically-induced coma after the suspected attack. The circumstances and suspects in the incident have not been revealed so far.

The journalist, who was the founder and a long-time editor of privately-owned Novy Peterburg newspaper, as well as a former city lawmaker and physicist with a higher doctorate degree, was found lying unconscious on the street on March 9 and transferred to the hospital in an ambulance.

According to Novy Peterburg chief editor Denis Usov, the incident took place after Andrushchenko allegedly received threats.

“[They] demanded he provide some documents. And then, he was found with his head banged near his house,” Usov said, as cited by RBK. He did not elaborate on what the documents were.

Usov added that they were told it was not clear if the journalist received the head injury as a result of the beating or from a fall. He speculated that the attack might have been connected to articles published in Novy Peterburg, some of which focused on the "theatrical fight against corruption," as well as allegations of past mafia links relating to the city authorities.

Andrushchenko was heading to a business meeting when the incident happened, said Novy Peterburg director Alevtina Avgeeva, adding that an investigation into the attack has been launched by the St. Petersburg police.

Andrushchenko was known as a harsh critic of the Russian government, and in particular of the judicial and law enforcement system of St. Petersburg, accusing the latter of links to southern Russian criminal groups in the 1990s. In 2008, he made headlines after penning a letter addressed to a list of human rights organizations and world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, then US President Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former UK PM Gordon Brown, in which he publicly renounced Russian citizenship and accused Moscow of political repressions and encroachment on freedom of speech.

While technically Russian law does not permit the renunciation of citizenship when the individual does not have citizenship of another country or “guarantees that he will obtain it,” and it is unclear what legal steps Andrushchenko actually attempted in this regard, he was also in the middle of a legal case with charges of libel and incitement leveled against him.

In 2007, Andrushchenko was detained and charged with incitement to carry out extremist activity, insulting a representative of authority and libel against state prosecution officials after a series of controversial articles for his newspaper. Those included Andrushchenko writing an editorial for his publication for people to take part in a mass unauthorized opposition rally, which was eventually not published.



In June 2009, the court found Andrushchenko guilty of inciting social discord against prosecution officials and insulting them, for which he received a suspended sentence of one year and was ordered to pay a fine of 20,000 rubles ($350). Andrushchenko neither had to serve his jail nor pay the fine, as by the time the verdict arrived, the statute of limitations in his case had already expired.

Andrushchenko flatly denied all the charges against him and also included in the 2008 letter lengthy allegations of “torture” and mistreatment in detention by police, which he said had a severe effect on his health. He also claimed that a year prior to his arrest he unsuccessfully attempted to get police to detain a migrant worker who had allegedly beaten him with nunchucks and had attempted an arson attack on his flat, which led him to believe the attack was “organized” by the Prosecutor’s Office.

The Novy Peterburg newspaper, which was shut down by a separate court decision in 2007 after “signs of extremist materials” were found in its articles amid the legal proceedings in Andrushchenko’s case, resumed publication in 2009 after the ruling was appealed. While the paper had been known to be a highly controversial outlet in the journalistic community of St. Petersburg, the situation also sparked concerns and accusations of censorship.


New Citizenship Policies Emphasize 'Australian Values'

By Mike Bambach 

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (L) and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton (R) discuss tighter citizenship requirements during a news conference Thursday at Parliament House in Canberra. Photo Lukas Coch/EPA

UPI -- Australia will make it more difficult to gain citizenship, announcing stringent policies Thursday that emphasize "Australian values."

The new requirements include a ­higher-standard English language test, belief in religious freedom and gender equality and a four-year residency period -- three years longer than present.

"We're not defined by race or religion or culture, as many other nations are," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters. "We're defined by commitment to common values, political values, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, mutual respect, equality for men and women."

Applicants also must provide evidence of integration into the community, including employment history, school enrollment or membership of community organizations.

"These fundamental values are what make us Australian," Turnbull said. "Our citizenship process should reflect that. "It is important that they understand that they are making a commitment to our Australian values."

The requirements would apply to all new applications for citizenship, the government said.


New visa requirements too

The move comes two days after Australia unveiled stricter visa requirements for skilled workers from overseas.

Australia announced stricter work visa rules Tuesday, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying the change will prioritize Australian workers.

The "457" work visa program, offering four-year visas to foreign workers in certain fields, will be replaced by two- and four-year visas, and the list of identified job categories will be reduced from 651 professions to 216. Application fees for visas will rise, and applicants will undergo English proficiency tests and criminal background checks.

Nearly 100,000 people were living in Australia in 2016 on 457 visas, nearly half from China, the United Kingdom or India. Most were employed as cooks, programmers and medical workers.

"We are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first," Turnbull said. "We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs. We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians."

The prior visa system was devised to fill gaps in the skilled labor market, but was criticized for its leniency and accessibility.

In a radio interview, Turnbull was critical of how the system was used, saying that workers arrived in Australia "on 457s to flip burgers at McDonald's. ... It basically displaced a lot of Australians from entry-level jobs."

Interesting - an English language test! Is there anyone in Australia who could pass one? Just kidding!

GM's Venezuela Plant, Assets Seized by Authorities

In the middle of an economic melt-down, putting several hundred people out of work would seem to be the last thing this country needs
By Andrew V. Pestano 

General Motors Venezolana, C.A., or GMV, said its plant in the city of Valencia as well as its assets have been seized by authorities. The company called the act "improper, absurd, outside of legal logic and due process." Photo courtesy General Motors Venezolana, C.A.

UPI -- General Motors said it has ceased all operations in Venezuela after authorities unexpectedly seized its plant in the city of Valencia.

A court in the Zulia state said it imposed a broad embargo on the assets of General Motors Venezolana, C.A., or GMV, which has been in operation for nearly seven decades. GMV said authorities seized its plant Wednesday afternoon and that its associated bank accounts likely are also out of its control, meaning the company cannot make payments, such as employee wages.

GMV called the act "improper, absurd, outside of legal logic and due process."

"GMV is taking all legal measures within its reach in order to protect the rights of its workers and their property," the company said in a statement.

The company called on workers, suppliers, dealers and external operators to refrain from reporting to work at the plant or other jobs until the court ruling is reversed.

El Universal reported the seizure is likely related to a lawsuit against the company filed by a former landowner in Maracaibo.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Venezuelan Protests Against Government Leave Two Students Dead

Meanwhile, the economy is collapsing spectacularly as the government entrenches itself. People are hungry and getting more desperate by the day. Maduro needs to step down and call fair and open elections. What he is doing now is just outright evil.

By Eyanir Chinea and Anggy Polanco | CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, VENEZUELA

Two Venezuelan students died on Wednesday after being shot during protests against unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro, increasing turmoil in the volatile nation amid a crippling economic crisis.

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called 'mother of all marches' against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Opposition supporters protested in Caracas and other cities in what they called "the mother of all marches," denouncing Maduro for eroding democracy and plunging the oil-rich economy into chaos.

Crowds swelled to hundreds of thousands, including Maduro supporters who held a counter-demonstration in the capital at the urging of the president, and clashes were reported across the country during the most sustained protests since 2014.

Maduro says that beneath a peaceful facade, the protests are little more than opposition efforts to foment a coup to end socialism in Venezuela. The opposition says he has morphed into a dictator and accuses his government of using armed civilians to spread violence and fear.

The dueling marches drew parallels to the clashes between pro and anti-government protesters in 2002 that triggered a brief coup against late President Hugo Chavez.

Carlos Moreno, 18, a student, was leaving his home to play soccer in Caracas when armed government supporters approached a nearby opposition gathering and fired shots, according to witnesses. He was shot in the head, they said, and three security officials said he later died in a clinic after undergoing surgery.

Later on Wednesday in the opposition hotbed of San Cristobal near the Colombia border, university student Paola Ramirez died after being shot by men pursuing her and her boyfriend, according to relatives and witnesses.

"We were on a motorbike and they were following us, shooting," her boyfriend told Reuters. "I left her on a block where she was going to find her sister and I went to hide the bike. I heard shots and when I arrived she was on the ground. I tried to protect her as much as I could," he added, sobbing in front of her body.

The public prosecutor's office said it was investigating both cases.

The opposition attributed both deaths to groups known as "colectivos," armed government supporters who are frequently accused of involvement in confrontations during protests.

There are few clear ways of determining who belongs to colectivos, who call themselves community groups but the opposition accuses of being violent paramilitary wings of the ruling Socialist Party.

The deaths mean seven people have now been killed during protests in Venezuela this month. The opposition blames the deaths on security forces and alleged paramilitary groups. Over 270 people were arrested during protests on Wednesday, rights group Penal Forum said.

"MADURO OUT!"

Waving the country's red, yellow and blue flags and shouting "No more dictatorship" and "Maduro out," demonstrators clogged a stretch of the main highway in Caracas. Troops fired tear gas in Caracas neighborhoods, San Cristobal, the depressed industrial city of Puerto Ordaz, and the arid northern city of Punto Fijo.

"We have to protest because this country is dying of hunger," said Alexis Mendoza, a 53-year-old administrator marching in the Caracas neighborhood of El Paraiso. "There are a lot of people in the opposition and they are full of courage."

The march followed a fortnight of violent protests triggered by a Supreme Court decision in March to assume the powers of the opposition-led Congress - which it quickly reversed under international pressure.

The court's move nonetheless fueled long-simmering anger over the ruling Socialist Party's handling of the economy. The OPEC country suffers from Soviet-style shortages of food and medicines and triple-digit inflation.

The opposition is demanding early elections, the freeing of jailed politicians, humanitarian aid, and respect for the autonomy of the opposition-led legislature.

The marchers gathered at more than two dozen points around Caracas, although some were stalled by authorities closing around 20 subway stops. Protesters had hoped to converge on the office of the state ombudsman, a guarantor of human rights, but as in previous attempts they were blocked by the National Guard. The protests trailed off with youths throwing rocks squaring off against security forces spraying tear gas.

Maduro has charged that the opposition is trying to relive the 2002 coup against Chavez, his predecessor and mentor, by blocking roads with burning trash and vandalizing public property.

On Wednesday afternoon he addressed a cheering red-shirted crowd in Caracas to declare that a "corrupt and interventionist right-wing" had been defeated.

"Today the people stood by Maduro!" the president said, blasting his rivals as "anti-Christs." "We've triumphed again! Here we are, governing, governing, governing with the people!" he added, before breaking into song.

Analysts say there is less likelihood of a coup against Maduro because Chavez launched a broad purge of the armed forces following his brief ouster.

Nevertheless, there is a limit. 

Some unhappy Venezuelans also steer clear of protests, fearful of violence, cynical that marches can bring about change, or too busy looking for food amid the recession.

Venezuela benefited for years from oil-fueled consumption and many poor citizens rose into the middle class. But the 2014 collapse in oil prices left the government unable to maintain a complex system of subsidies and price controls. Snaking grocery lines are now a common sight and people routinely say they skip meals and cannot find basic medication.

Further spurring outrage was a decision by the national comptroller's office earlier this month to disqualify opposition leader Henrique Capriles from holding office for 15 years, dashing his hopes for the presidency.

The elections council, which is sympathetic to the government, has delayed votes for state governors that were supposed to take place last year.

Demonstrators also gathered on Wednesday in the eastern city of Puerto Ordaz, home to Venezuela's struggling state-run mining companies, and the oil city of Maracaibo.

"I've just graduated ... and what I've got in the bank isn't enough for a bottle of cooking oil," said Gregorio Mendoza, a 23-year-old engineer in Puerto Ordaz. "We're poorer every day."





Poll: Venezuelans say they 'suffer' more than 'thrive'
By Andrew V. Pestano 

A protester wearing a gas mask is seen during clashes with the Venezuelan National Guard in Caracas on April 10. A Gallup poll shows that 13 percent of Venezuelans rated their lives positively, as opposed to 28 percent who said they were "suffering." The remaining 59 percent of Venezuelans are "struggling." Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA

UPI -- A Gallup poll shows that 13 percent of Venezuelans rated their lives positively in 2016, a 44 percent decrease from 2012 -- a year prior to Nicolas Maduro assuming the presidency.

Thirteen percent of Venezuelans said they rated their lives positively enough to be considered "thriving," as opposed to 28 percent who said they were "suffering." The remaining 59 percent of Venezuelans say they are "struggling."

It is the first time since Gallup began conducting the poll in 2006 that more Venezuelans considered themselves to be "suffering" than "thriving."

"The new low in the percentage of Venezuelans whose ratings are thriving comes amid dramatic political and economic upheaval that continues to unfold in Latin America's fifth-largest country," Gallup said in a statement. "Anti-government protests broke out in early April after the increasingly unpopular president and the Supreme Court attempted to strip the nation's congress of its power."

In the same poll, 91 percent of Venezuelans said the country's economy is "getting worse," compared to 5 percent who said the economy is "getting better." In 2012, 22 percent of Venezuelans said the economy was "getting worse," compared to 41 percent who said it was getting better.

The South American country is facing a political, security and economic crisis in which basic goods such as food and medicine are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable. Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

In the poll, 80 percent of Venezuelans also said there have been times in the past year when they did not have enough money to buy food for themselves or their family, which is on par with Central African Republic's 83 percent and Malawi's 82 percent.

The Gallup poll's results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted from July 7 until Sept. 8 with 1,000 Venezuelans aged 15 and older. The poll has a 4.1 percent margin of error.