Maduro willing to negotiate with opposition in Venezuela following U.S. sanctions and the cutting off of oil revenues. Guaido is being targeted by Venezuelan Supreme Court. Massive protest expected today. Americans should not travel to Venezuela until further notice.
The power struggle over Zuma’s departure put the president at loggerheads with Cyril Ramaphosa, his expected successor, who is the new head of the African National Congress.
The party’s powerful 107-member national executive committee (NEC) met for 13 hours at a hotel outside Pretoria, and decided in the early hours of Tuesday to “recall” Zuma from his post.
Ramaphosa and Ace Magashule, the party’s secretary-general, had personally delivered a request for Zuma to resign to the president’s official residence in Pretoria at about midnight.
But Zuma “was very arrogant. He told them he was not going anywhere as he did nothing wrong,” an unnamed ANC committee member told the Mail and Guardian newspaper.
“He told them if the ANC issued a statement on its decision to recall him, he will retaliate.”
Another source told the Times Live website that Ramaphosa had pleaded with Zuma to leave office, but Zuma had responded “in no uncertain terms” that he would not resign.
The ANC — which was once led by anti-apartheid struggle leader Nelson Mandela — reportedly dismissed a request by Zuma for a few more months in office and instead gave him 48 hours to step down.
– Who’s in charge? –
ANC officials were not reachable Tuesday morning, but the party called a press conference for 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) at its headquarters in Johannesburg.
The ANC can “recall” the head of state, essentially forcing him to resign, but the process is a party-level instruction and he is under no constitutional obligation to obey.
If he refuses, Zuma would then likely be ousted via a parliamentary vote of no-confidence within days.
Ramaphosa, the de-facto president-in-waiting, has been in deadlocked negotiations with Zuma, who dismissed an earlier request from party leaders to resign more than a week ago.
The stalemate plunged South Africa — Africa’s most developed economy — into uncertainty over who is running the country, with a series of public events cancelled last week including the annual State of the Nation address to parliament.
“We know you want this matter to be finalised,” Ramaphosa, 65, told a party rally in Cape Town on Sunday to loud cheers.
“We know you want closure… Because our people want this matter to be finalised, the NEC will be doing precisely that.”
South African opposition parties have called for early elections as the ANC’s leadership battle grinds on.
An opposition request for a no-confidence vote against Zuma, 75, this week was still being considered by the parliamentary Speaker.
– Graft scandals –
Zuma’s presidency has been marred by corruption scandals, slow economic growth and record unemployment that have fuelled public anger.
He was scheduled to stand down next year after serving the maximum two terms after coming to power in 2009.
“I think Jacob Zuma is almost daring the ANC to remove him through a motion of no confidence because he knows that would be damaging for unity in the party,” analyst Abdul Waheed Patel told AFP.
In 2008, Zuma’s supporters pushed out then-president Thabo Mbeki over allegations of abuse of power.
In local polls in 2016, the ANC recorded its worst electoral performance since coming to power with Mandela at the helm in 1994 when white-minority rule fell.
The party faces a tricky general election next year.
Ramaphosa is a former trade unionist and Mandela ally who led talks to end apartheid rule in the early 1990s and then became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.
Zuma’s hold over the ANC was shaken in December when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in a vote to be the new party leader.
The ANC has insisted there will be no delay to the budget speech, which is due on February 21.
Trump Calls Venezuela Opposition Candidate, Congratulates Him for Declaring Himself Interim President
President Donald Trump congratulated the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, in a phone call on Wednesday for declaring himself the country’s interim president as the U.S. attempts to maintain pressure on Nicolas Maduro.
“Interim President Guaido thanked President Trump for the United States’ commitment to freedom and prosperity in Venezuela and the region, and noted the importance of the large protests across Venezuela against former dictator Maduro, set to occur today and Saturday,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement following the call.
“They agreed to maintain regular communication to support Venezuela’s path back to stability, and to rebuild the bilateral relationship between the United States and Venezuela,” Sanders said.
The U.S. and other countries recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s leader last week, and the Trump administration has moved rapidly to shore up his government-in-waiting. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo granted Guaido access to Venezuelan accounts at U.S. financial institutions, and the administration has warned Maduro not to arrest or otherwise make a move against the opposition leader.
Maduro cut off diplomatic relations with the U.S. and ordered American diplomats out of the country last week, though the State Department chose to maintain a skeleton staff in the Caracas embassy.
The Trump administration increased pressure on Maduro this week, announcing sanctions on Venezuela’s central bank and the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, effectively blocking his regime from exporting oil to the U.S.
Trump said Wednesday that following the sanctions, Maduro is open to negotiations with the opposition.
Priests in Remote Communities May Marry in Exceptional Cases – Pope Francis
The Catholic Church’s long-standing rule on priestly Celibacy might be amended, but only in exceptional cases concerning remote communities, Pope Francis said on Monday.
He told reporters on the plane taking him back from a six-day trip to Panama that he would not go as far as giving blanket permission for priests to get married.
“I won’t do it. This remains clear. Perhaps I’m close-minded. But I don’t feel like putting myself before God with this decision,’’ he said.
However, Francis admitted that there was a problem with remote Catholic communities in places like the Amazon or some Pacific islands, where there are no priests to say Mass.
In those cases, he said, it may be an idea to ordain an elder member of such communities, even if that person is married, so that he could perform the role of a priest.
“The issue must be open for places where there is a pastoral problem because of the lack of priests,’’ Francis said.
He added that “I am not saying it should be done, because I have not thought, prayed enough about it. But theologians must study it.”
US Goes After Venezuela’s Oil To Hit Maduro
The United States announced sanctions Monday against Venezuela’s state oil company in a coordinated effort with the main opposition leader to cripple embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s power base.
The measures against state-owned PDVSA were presented as a way of preventing the leftist strongman from looting the coffers in his economically ruined country before he is replaced by the man Washington says is the rightful interim president — opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“The purpose of sanctions is to change behavior,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the White House.
“So when there is a recognition that the company is the property of, the rightful rulers, the rightful leaders, then indeed that money will be available to Guaido.”
Guaido, who heads the National Assembly legislature and has named himself acting president, issued his own statement, saying he was taking “orderly control of our republic’s assets abroad” to prevent a departing Maduro from trying “to empty the coffers.”
Venezuela was once a Latin American success story and has the world’s largest oil reserves, but has been driven into the ground during years of hardline leftist rule.
With millions short of food and other basic resources, there is widespread discontent. However, so far Maduro has retained the backing of the powerful armed forces, as well as support from Russia and China.
Washington has moved decisively to seek the exit of Maduro by recognizing Guaido and urging the military to switch loyalties.
President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, called for security forces “to accept the peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power.”
“We’ve seen Venezuelan official and military personnel heeding this call,” he added, citing the defection this weekend of the country’s military attache to Washington.
Bolton also would not rule out the use of US troops.
“The president has made it clear on this matter that all options are on the table,” he told reporters.
Pope’s ‘bloodbath’ fears
Guaido called for a two-hour strike Wednesday “to demand that the armed forces side with the people” ahead of a “big national and international rally” on Saturday.
His remarks came as the death toll in last week’s protests rose to 35, according to NGO workers, with the government security forces accused of killing another eight in “extra-judicial executions.”
Roman Catholic Pope Francis said Monday following a trip to Panama that he was afraid the escalating crisis would become “a bloodbath.”
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, offered to step in, saying he could provide “good offices to facilitate dialogue and negotiation between the parties.”
Russia, China, Turkey and leftist regional allies Cuba, Bolivia and Mexico continue to back Maduro.
However, a dozen Latin American countries have recognized Guaido and six European nations — Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands — have said they would follow suit unless Maduro calls elections by February 3.
– PDVSA must drop Maduro –
Mnuchin said PDVSA must cut itself from Maduro in order to see sanctions dropped.
“The path to sanctions relief for PDVSA is through the expeditious transfer of control to the interim president or a subsequent, democratically elected government,” he said.
PDVSA’s US-based subsidiary Citgo will be able to continue operations, as long as its earnings are deposited into a blocked account in the United States.
Guaido, who declared himself acting president last Wednesday, said he will begin the process of naming new boards for PDVSA and Citgo to “start recovering our industry that is going through a dark time.”
He said he will ask lawmakers to take “the necessary measures to guarantee the greatest transparency and control of the use” of the assets.
“We took this decision to ensure that Citgo stays in the hands of Venezuelans,” added Guaido.
Since being elected head of the National Assembly legislature last month, Guaido has managed to rally a previously disunited opposition.
Maduro has been in charge since 2013 but his reelection last May was branded illegitimate by the European Union, United States and Organization of American States.
Several opposition leaders had been forced into exile, jailed or barred from standing in the election, leading the opposition to boycott the poll.
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