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Juan Guaidó Calls for Uprising Against Maduro, Says He Has Military Support

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  • Juan Guaidó posted a video on Twitter saying that the Venezuelan military was now backing him and called for citizens and the armed forces to take to the streets.
  • Military forces still aligned with Maduro responded by violently clashing with military members who support Guaidó and anti-government protestors.
  • Leaders in the United States and Brazil have come out in support of Guaidó’s efforts, which he calls “Operation Freedom,” while others like Russia and Bolivia have condemned him.

Guaidó Declares Military Backing

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó posted a video on Twitter Tuesday, announcing that he was launching the “final phase” of his plan to oust incumbent president Nicolás Maduro.

Source: @JuanGuaidó

Guaidó delivered the message while he was surrounded by men in military uniforms at an airbase in Caracas. Most significantly, he said that his plan had the support of the military forces.

“The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they are counting on the support of the Venezuelan people,” he said in the video.

Guaidó added that soldiers had already taken to the streets and were protecting the constitution. Following the video, Guaidó and the soldiers clashed with other soldiers supporting Maduro who were protesting outside the airbase and who thew tear gas canisters at them.

Guaidó then took to the streets in Caracas, where he and his military escort were joined by protestors. Military forces that still support Maduro were seen violently fighting with members of the armed forces that now support Guaidó and anti-government protestors. Guaidó’s military supporters repelled members of the military still aligned with Maduro with gunfire and teargas.

Protestors were also seen throwing tear gas canisters and Molotov cocktails, and a National Guard vehicle drove into a crowd of protestors, running over demonstrators who were reportedly throwing stones and hitting the vehicles with sticks.

Meanwhile, it was also reported that tons of Venezuelan military defectors rallied at the Simón Bolívar bridge on Venezuela’s border with Columbia to show their solidarity with Guaidó.

Response

Unsurprisingly, Maduro and his loyalists have condemned these efforts.

In defiance, Maduro claimed in a tweet that the military forces were still in his corner.

Source: @NicolásMaduro

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino referred to Guaidó’s efforts as a “coup movement” in a tweet, arguing it aimed to “fill the country with violence.”

Source: @VladimirPadrino

Other leaders have come out in support of Maduro, like Bolivian president Evo Morales, who labeled the movement a coup. Leaders and government officials in Russia, Cuba, Spain, and Turkey, have also condemned Guaidó’s actions.

On the other side, a number of world leaders have come out in support of Guaidó, especially in the U.S.

Donald Trump wrote in a tweet, “United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that sentiment, tweeting “The U.S. Government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy.”

Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton also expressed their support on Twitter. Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia have joined the U.S. in supporting Guaidó.

This declaration certainly represents Guaidó’s boldest move by far. Currently, it seems like this could be a turning point for Venezuela. Some people who oppose Guaidó are calling his efforts a military coup. Others, including Bolton, argue that if he is the legitimate interim president then he is just rightfully trying to transition to power.

“We recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela,” Bolton said in a press briefing, “And just as it’s not a coup when the President of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it is not a coup for Juan Guaido to try and take command of the Venezuelan military.”

What Next?

As the protests continue, the most relevant question is whether or not Guaidó will get enough of the military to support him and turn against Maduro. The reports on this are contradictory.

Earlier this morning, Padrino tweeted that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB) still stand with Maduro.

Source: @VladimirPadrino

However, Guaidó seemed to contradict this in a tweet, writing that he was “meeting with the main military units of our Armed Forces.”

Source:@JuanGuaidó
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Guardian) (The Washington Post)

International

New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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International

Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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