Venezuela slammed for firing dissenting attorney general

A new assembly loyal to President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday fired the country’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, one of his most vociferous critics, triggering a firestorm of condemnation from the US and Latin American nations.


“The United States condemns (the) illegal removal” of Ortega, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweeted, adding the move was aimed at tightening the “authoritarian dictatorship of (the) Maduro regime.” 

We applaud Mercosur Foreign Ministers for suspending #Venezuela from the trade bloc for rupture of the democratic order. 2/2

— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) August 5, 2017

Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Peru equally slammed the decision, made by the Constituent Assembly as its very first order of business a week after it was elected in a vote marred by violence and fraud allegations. 

0:00 Opposition protests new constituent assembly: Venezuela Share Opposition protests new constituent assembly: Venezuela

The assembly also said Ortega would face trial for “irregularities” from her time in office and was forbidden from leaving the country.

Ortega, who was barred by dozens of soldiers from entering her offices, refused to recognize her sacking, or the assembly’s swearing in of Tarek William Saab, the national ombudsman, in her place.

“I am not giving up, Venezuela is not giving up and will not give up against barbarity, illegality, hunger, darkness and death,” she said.

Ortega has been a thorn in Maduro’s side for months, breaking ranks with him over the legality of the Constituent Assembly.

One of the assembly’s most prominent members, Diosdado Cabello, said of the firing: “This is not a personal, political lynching, just carrying out the law.” 

Ortega’s sacking had been widely expected. But its swiftness — and the fact it was a unanimous vote — stirred wide unease.

Mercosur suspension

Maduro and his Socialist party have “completely taken hostage” Venezuela’s institutions through “an undemocratic mechanism that is utterly dictatorial,” the leader of the opposition-controlled legislature, Julio Borges, told reporters.

As Ortega’s firing was announced, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil declared Venezuela was indefinitely suspended from the South American trading bloc Mercosur for its “rupture of the democratic order.”

The United States and the office of the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almargo, endorsed the suspension.

“The countries of the region… must continue to tell the Venezuelan regime that in the Americas, there is no place for dictatorships or for the tyrants that lead them,” it said in a statement.

The international onslaught added to US sanctions imposed on Maduro after the Constituent Assembly’s election.

Maduro responded in an interview with an Argentine radio station that “Venezuela will not be taken out of Mercosur – never!”

He accused his Argentine counterpart, Mauricio Macri, of trying to impose a “blockade” on Venezuela and US President Donald Trump of wanting to grab the country’s vast oil reserves.


Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, this week ruled out foreign military intervention and said Washington did not want to give Maduro a pretext for blaming the US for his mounting woes.

The United States, the European Union and major Latin American nations have all rejected the Constituent Assembly.

The body’s legitimacy was struck a hard blow this week when a British-based firm that supplied the voting technology, Smartmatic, said the turnout figure was “tampered with” and greatly exaggerated.

Supreme powers

The principal task of the Constituent Assembly is to rewrite the constitution, something Maduro promised will resolve Venezuela’s troubles.

“We are going to win back peace,” the president said.

While working on its mission, the assembly holds supreme powers over all other branches of government.

Initial suggestions were that it would need only six months to complete its work.

But it announced on Saturday that it would stay in place for up to two years – beyond the end of Maduro’s term, due to end in 2019.

Its 545 members, all Maduro allies, include the president’s wife and son. It is led by Maduro’s fiercely loyal former foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez.

0:00 Clashes break out between opposition and Venzuelan security forces Share Clashes break out between opposition and Venzuelan security forces

The opposition has vowed to maintain street protests against the assembly. 

Four months of demonstrations violently matched by security forces have left at least 125 people dead. 

But the rallies grew more muted this week as the assembly took its seats and vowed to go after those seen as inciting street action.

Maduro has around 20 percent public support, according to surveys by the Datanalisis polling firm.

Ordinary Venezuelans are struggling, with food, essentials and medicine scarce, the currency rapidly depreciating, and inflation soaring. Thousands have sought shelter in neighboring countries, particularly Colombia and Brazil.


Neil Young announces online archive

Neil Young has announced that he will launch an online archive that will include “every single, recorded track or album I have produced” since his first recording session in 1963.


A technological evolution of his sprawling Archives boxed set – the first volume of which was released in 2009 – the archive will display as a timeline where fans can click on songs or albums and view loads of information around each release.

“View all albums currently released and see albums still unreleased and in production just by using the controls to zoom through the years,” Young wrote in a detailed letter announcing the archive.

“Unreleased album art is simply pencilled in so you can see where unreleased albums will appear on the timeline, once they are completed.”

Ever the exacting audiophile, Young also promises that the music will be streamed via Xstream Music, a streaming service that “are always pure uncompressed masters.”

A rep for Young said the project has been in the works for many years and has no release date, and longtime fans will know not to hold their collective breath.

More than any other artist except perhaps Prince and Frank Zappa, Young is both wildly prolific and a meticulous curator of his own career, with seemingly boundless patience to wait until he deems the moment right for his creations to be shared with the world. Songs and entire albums sit unreleased for years or even decades after their creation, if at all – the latest example, coming on September 8, is Hitchhiker, a stunning solo acoustic album containing early versions of songs like Pocahontas, Captain Kennedy and the title track, that has sat in his vault for some 41 years.

Venezuela removes chief prosecutor

A newly installed constitutional assembly has ousted Venezuela’s defiant chief prosecutor, a sign that President Nicolas Maduro’s embattled government intends to move swiftly against critics and consolidate power amid a fast-moving political crisis.


Cries of “traitor” and “justice” erupted from the stately, neo-classical salon where 545 pro-government delegates voted unanimously to remove Luisa Ortega from her post as the nation’s top law enforcement official and replace her with a staunch government supporter.

They said they were acting in response to a ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court, which banned Ortega from leaving the country and froze her bank accounts while it weighs criminal charges against her for alleged irregularities.

Ortega, a longtime loyalist who broke with the socialist government in April, refused to recognise the decision and vowed to continue defending the rights of Venezuelans from Maduro’s “coup” against the constitution “with my last breath.”

“This is just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government,” Ortega said in the statement she signed as chief prosecutor. “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”

Earlier on Saturday, Ortega was pushed and barred from entering her office by dozens of national guardsmen in riot gear who took control of the entrance to the building.

Late on Saturday, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was returned home after being taken into custody in the middle of the night on Tuesday. Lopez was released from prison last month and placed under house arrest after serving three years of a 13-year sentence on charges of inciting violence at opposition rallies.

The constitutional assembly was seated despite strong criticism from the United States, other countries and the Venezuelan opposition, which fear that it will be a tool for imposing dictatorship. Supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

Yunupingu’s death preventable: doctor

The loss of Australia’s most prominent indigenous musician Dr G Yunupingu to kidney disease has shone a light on the “largely preventable” renal health nightmare afflicting remote communities, his doctor says.


The 46-year-old blind Yolngu singer died last month in Darwin while undergoing dialysis treatment, as there were no services available in his Galiwink’u community on Elcho Island.

His specialist, Dr Paul Lawton told Garma Festival that many indigenous Australians have to travel hundreds of kilometres for end-stage renal therapy, which he describes as a “nightmare” akin to purgatory.

“You’re neither alive nor dead,” he said.

A similar diagnosis forced Yirrkala woman Gundimulk Wanambi to live 700km away from her coastal Arnhem Land community to access dialysis services.

“We want to come back home to our own country, our family … so we can enjoy ourselves, go hunting and get our own food … and feel healthy again,” she said.

“Darwin is not my home.”

Aboriginal people are up to seven times more likely to need treatment for the chronic illness than their non-indigenous Australians.

This inequity is even worse for kidney transplants, Dr Lawton says.

“Compared to a non-indigenous patient in Surry Hills in Sydney, an indigenous patient with the same age and illness in Redfern right next door has a third of the chance of a kidney transplant,” he said.

“An indigenous patient from east Arnhem… has a 10th of the chance of transplantation of a non-indigenous person from east Arnhem.”

Last year, four Arnhem Land Aboriginal community organisations raised $680,000 to expand on-country dialysis support in the region, and are calling on the Northern Territory and federal governments to match that funding.

“Sadly, the rollout of this life-saving service across Arnhem Land will come too late for our beloved singer, the late Dr G YunupiNGu, but we have a chance to make a difference for hundreds of other people now,” Miwatj Health Chief Health Officer Dr Lucas de Toca said.

Kokkinakis beaten in maiden ATP Tour final

Thanasi Kokkinakis will rocket more than 200 places up the rankings despite falling just short of winning his maiden ATP Tour final in Los Cabos, Mexico.


Kokkinakis went down to world No.24 Querrey 6-3 3-6 6-2, the Australian showing more positive signs after a long layoff from the sport.

Playing his sixth tournament since missing 18 months due to a litany of injuries, 21-year-old Kokkinakis is expected to jump from No.454 in the world to No.225 after his big week in Mexico.

In-form Querrey, a Wimbledon semi-finalist and winner of the Mexican Open in March, was a little too polished for Kokkinakis when it mattered most.

A low first service percentage proved Kokkinakis’s undoing in the first set and the American needed just one break to lock it away.

The South Australian improved his delivery in the second and made inroads on Querrey’s serve to level the match.

A sloppy first service game in the final set then cost Kokkinakis dearly and he quickly found himself 3-0 down in the decider.

He had two opportunities to break back at 2-4 but failed to capitalise as the second seed held and won the next game to take the match.

“For me this has been unbelievable,” an emotional Kokkinakis said.

“In two years I have missed so much time.

“I was sitting on the couch doing nothing for two years and now to come back and play at this level and have such a great tournament; what better place to do it than Los Cabos.”

Kokkinakis had defeated top seed and world No.14 Tomas Berdych to make the final.

That came after a solid grass court campaign where he beat world No.9 Milos Raonic at Queen’s and pushed Juan Martin del Potro at Wimbledon.

His strong form is timely with the US Open starting at the end of the month and a Davis Cup semi-final against Belgium in Brussels on clay from September 15.

If fit Nick Kyrgios would take one singles position for Australia with Kokkinakis likely to battle it out with Jordan Thompson for the other slot.