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U.S. Removes Diplomats From Venezuela Amid Nationwide Power Outages

Power outages in Venezuela have left much of the country in the dark, hindering humanitarian efforts, and killing 21 people. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will be removing diplomats from Venezuela citing the “deteriorating situation” in the country as a reason. U.S. to Withdraw Diplomats United States Secretary of State […]

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  • Power outages in Venezuela have left much of the country in the dark, hindering humanitarian efforts, and killing 21 people.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will be removing diplomats from Venezuela citing the “deteriorating situation” in the country as a reason.

U.S. to Withdraw Diplomats

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. would withdraw all diplomats from Venezuela as the country faces nationwide power outages.

Pompeo announced the decision in a tweet, writing, “the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.”

This move is especially significant because the last line of the tweet could indicate that the U.S. is considering using military force, an option President Trump and his administration have repeatedly indicated is still on the table.

The removal of U.S. diplomats is also a big deal because the U.S. has continually said it will keep essential diplomatic staff in Venezuela. The effort to withdraw diplomatic personnel could indicate that the U.S. government may feel the situation is out of control.

Sweeping Blackouts in Venezuela

Meanwhile, most of Venezuela has been without power for almost a week now.

On Saturday, yet another wave of protests swept Caracas as opposition protestors came out to demonstrate against a nationwide blackout that has left almost all of the country in the dark since last Thursday.

The blackouts reportedly stem from an unspecified problem in Venezuela’s primary hydroelectric power plan, Guri.

Guri is a massive plant, supplying power to 4 out of 5 Venezuelans, and the problem allegedly came from a substation based in the center of the country.

Unsurprisingly, the power outages have made the humanitarian problems in Venezuela even worse.

Water pumps have been affected in parts Caracas, leaving people to fill water bottles at sewage pipes. Long lines of cars and citizens can be seen waiting for gas at the few gas stations that are still open, while transportation networks like subways have been shut down.

Much of Venezuela’s telecommunications networks have been entirely knocked out. Most alarming is the impact on hospitals and medical facilities, which already face medicine shortages, and now are struggling to keep patients alive.

Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who has been declared interim president, stated on Sunday that 17 people had died due to the blackouts, referring to the deaths as “murders.”

Then on Monday, The Guardian reported that at least 21 people, six of whom were babies, had died as a result of the blackouts.

It is still unclear how many people have died and how many people are affected by the blackouts, with contradictory reports of how much power has been restored to different parts of the country.

Unknown Cause

Also still disputed is what exactly caused the outage at the hydroelectric plant.

On Saturday, Nicolás Maduro claimed that the blackout was caused by cyberattacks launched by the opposition with “the support and assistance of the US.” Then, in a speech on Monday, Maduro stated: “The United States’ imperialist government ordered this attack.”

Maduro’s Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez additionally claimed that the blackout was caused by right-wing extremists under the direction of Senator Marco Rubio.

Maduro and his ministers have not provided any evidence for these claims.

Guaidó has disputed this assertion, arguing that blackouts were caused by years of underinvestment in energy infrastructure.

Guaidó’s claim has been broadly supported by energy experts and Venezuelan power sector contractors who have said that in addition to underinvestment, the blackouts are also a result of corruption and brain drain from the energy sector.

Venezuela’s electrical system used to be one of the best in Latin America, but now it is in poor shape after years of improper maintenance and mismanagement.

Venezuelan officials have been accused of stealing government money earmarked for the electrical system. Blackouts have become fairly frequent in Venezuela. However, a blackout of this scale and magnitude has not been seen for many years. Some are even calling the worst blackout in the country’s history.

On Monday, the opposition government declared a state of emergency.

It remains unclear when Venezuela will regain power, especially now as both sides continue to add political charge to the issue.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Guardian) (New York Times)

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YouTuber Accused of Murder After Using Livestream as Alibi

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Stephen McCullagh may have eluded the authority’s suspicion if not for CCTV footage that allegedly puts him near the scene of the crime.


Police Peer Behind the Veil

A Northern Ireland YouTuber was charged with murdering a pregnant woman last week, and police told the court he used his livestream as an alibi.

On Dec. 18, 32-year-old Natalie McNally was stabbed to death in her Silverwood Green home in Lurgan. She was 15 weeks pregnant.

Police initially arrested Stephen McCullagh, also 32 years old, but soon released him after he persuaded them he was livestreaming the night the murder happened.

McCullagh, from Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, is a part-time assistant audience editor for the Belfast Telegraph and has a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers.

His livestream was indeed active on the night McNally was murdered, but the footage of him playing the video game Grand Theft Auto was pre-recorded days earlier, according to a technical examination of his devices by cyber experts.

Senior detective Neil McGuinness told district judge Rosie Watters that McCullagh denied any involvement in the crime but admitted that the livestream was faked in a written statement.

The YouTuber later revised his story from that night to claim he drank alone at home then fell asleep.

Prosecutors alleged the suspect had devised a “sophisticated, calculated and cool-headed plot” and was “capable of deception beyond imagination.”

Damning Evidence Comes to Light

Police told the court they can trace McCullagh’s movements from the crime scene back to his home on Dec. 18 using CCTV footage from a bus and an account from a taxi driver.

A man police believe to be McCullagh is seen boarding the bus with his hood pulled down and scarf pulled up.

According to the statement, the man removes a black glove to accept his change from the driver, revealing a second yellow glove underneath.

McGuinness said it was consistent with the print of a Marigold glove found in a blood stain at the crime scene.

Police also believe the same man boarded a taxi. Based on an analysis of GPS data, authorities say the cab allegedly stopped at McCullagh’s address.

At the beginning of McCullagh’s pre-recorded stream, he told his audience that he couldn’t respond to their live chat messages because of technical difficulties.

“I could use my phone to dip in every now and again and check it, but I’ve decided that I kind of hate livestreams where people just sit and read comments and go, ‘oh my God, yes, ask me questions,’” he added.

Police allege he deliberately referred to the time and said “I’m not leaving the house tonight” to reinforce his alibi.

At one point, he expresses fear about rising crime and underfunded police.

“That’s why I love sticking to just doing crimes in a video game,” he said. “Keeps things simple, mate.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (Irish Mirror)

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200 Children Seeking Asylum in the U.K. Are Missing 

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The missing include at least 13 children under the age of 16. 


Children Missing From Hotels

There are 200 asylum-seeking children missing from government care in the United Kingdom according to the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office.

When children are seeking asylum in the U.K. alone or separated from their parents, the government puts them up in hotel rooms for temporary accommodation. They have done so since 2021 and have temporarily accommodated 4,600 children in that time. However, Simon Murray, the parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Home Office, said that 200 of the children placed in those hotels are missing, including at least 13 who are under the age of 16.

In response to this information, a collection of more than 100 charities sent a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the end of the procedure of placing kids in hotels over safety concerns. The letter says that these children are at risk of trafficking and exploitation by staying in these hotels alone.

Other officials have echoed these concerns, claiming these hotels are targets for organized crime where people use these vulnerable children for labor or trafficking.

Parliament Calls Incident “Horrific”

Murray told the House of Lords on Monday that despite the media reports, his department does not know of any kidnapping cases, though they are investigating. He went on to say there are many reasons why children go missing. 

However, lawmakers were not appeased by Murray’s assurances. In a later debate, one member of Parliament called the missing cases “horrific” and another said that it was “putting children at risk.”  The children’s commissioner for England also reportedly chimed in asking for, quote “assurances on the steps being taken to safeguard the children.” 

Murray went on to say that the use of hotels for asylum-seeking children will hopefully be phased out as soon as possible but did not give a timeline. 

The nonprofit Refugee Council called on the government in a tweet to spare no expense in the location of these missing kids.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Telegraph)

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100,000 U.K. Nurses Launch Biggest Strike in NHS History

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Opposition leader Keir Starmer called the strike “a badge of shame on this government.”


The NHS Grinds to a Halt

Some 100,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the United Kingdom’s largest nursing union, launched a historic 12-hour strike Thursday after the government refused to negotiate on higher pay.

The work stoppage, which spans England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is only the second in the RCN’s 106-year history and the largest the NHS has ever seen. It marks the breaking point for many underpaid nurses and the culmination of a years-long decline in the NHS’s quality of care, put under increasing stress by severe staffing shortages.

Although most NHS staff in England and Wales received a pay rise of around £1,400 this year, worth about 4% on average for nurses, they say it has not kept up with inflation as Britain plunges deeper into a cost-of-living crisis.

When inflation is accounted for, nurses’ pay dropped 1.2% every year from 2010 to 2017, according to the Health Foundation.

Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting for care has reached a record 7.2 million in England, or over one in eight residents, more than double what it was seven years ago.

In July, the cross-party Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee estimated the staffing shortfall could be as high as 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors, what one MP called the “greatest workforce crisis in history.”

Many nurses argue that boosting pay will help hospitals recruit more staff.

The RCN demanded a pay raise 5% above the retail rate of inflation, which amounts to a 19% increase, but both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the government’s health secretary have claimed that’s not affordable.

During Thursday’s strike, partial staffing continued to remain open for urgent care such as chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and children’s accident and neonatal units.

Sunak and Starmer Brawl in Parliament

Labor leader Keir Starmer grilled Sunak during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on the upcoming strike.

“Tomorrow will be the first-ever nationwide nurse’s strike,” he said. “All the Prime Minister has to do to stop that is to open the door and discuss pay with them. If he did, the whole country would breathe a sigh of relief. Why won’t he?”

“We have consistently spoken to all the unions involved in all the pay disputes that there are,” Sunak replied. “Last year, when everyone else in the public sector had a public sector pay freeze, the nurses received a three-percent pay rise.”

Starmer fired back: “Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government. Instead of showing leadership, he’s playing games with people’s health.”

Sunak called Starmer’s demand that he reopen negotiations with the RCN “just simply a political formula for avoiding taking a position on this issue.”

“If he thinks the strikes are wrong, he should say so,” Sunak said. “If he thinks it’s right that pay demands of nineteen percent are met, then he should say so. What’s weak, Mr. Speaker, is he’s not strong enough to stand up to the union.”

While Starmer has called on Sunak to negotiate with the RCN, he has not explicitly backed the 19% pay raise himself.

Unless the government returns to the bargaining table, the RCN plans to launch a second round of strikes on Dec. 20 to be followed by ambulance strikes that Wednesday and the next.

If the government still refuses to budge, the union said in a statement that nurses will strike for longer periods in more places starting in January, disrupting more health services.

Other industries are also set to see work stoppages this month, including workers on railways, buses, highways, and borders, as well as teachers, postal workers, baggage handlers, and paramedics.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (The Guardian)

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