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.

Japan marks 72 years since Hiroshima atomic bomb

The anniversary came after Japan sided last month with nuclear powers Britain, France and the US to dismiss a UN treaty banning atomic weapons, which was rejected by critics for ignoring the reality of security threats such as North Korea.


Japan is the only country to have suffered atomic attacks, in 1945.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking at the annual ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park near the ground zero, said Japan hoped to push for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that all countries can agree.


“For us to truly pursue a world without nuclear weapons, we need participation from both nuclear-weapons and non-nuclear weapons states,” Abe said in his speech at the annual ceremony.

“Our country is committed to leading the international community by encouraging both sides” to make progress toward abolishing nuclear arms, Abe added without directly referring to the UN treaty.

Japanese officials have criticised the UN Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty as deepening a divide between countries with and without nuclear arms. None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons took part in the negotiations or vote on the treaty.

Japanese officials routinely argue that they abhor nuclear weapons, but the nation’s defence is firmly set under the US nuclear umbrella.

Japan suffered two nuclear attacks at the end of the World War II by the United States – in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and in Nagasaki three days later.

The bombings claimed the lives of 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 74,000 people in Nagasaki. Some died immediately while others succumbed to injuries or radiation-related illnesses weeks, months and years later.

Japan announced its surrender in World War II on August 15, 1945.

Many in Japan feel the attacks amount to war crimes and atrocities because they targeted civilians and due to the unprecedented destructive nature of the weapons.

But many Americans believe they hastened the end of a bloody conflict, and ultimately saved lives, thus justifying the bombings.

Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in May last year, paying moving tribute to victims of the devastating bomb.

People offer prayers for the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in front of the cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park.AAP

Future of marriage, senators face scrutiny

Same-sex marriage and the future of dual-citizen senators will dominate the return of federal parliament.


During the winter break, a small group of Liberal MPs have been advocating for the party to drop support for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, and instead allow a free vote on a bill in parliament.

However, conservative Liberals and Nationals MPs are urging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to stand by the plebiscite which was taken to the 2016 election.

One of the rebels, Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman, says they worked hard to offer a plebiscite but the Senate wouldn’t back the plan.

“It’s not a choice between the plebiscite as we promised it and a parliamentary vote; it’s a choice between a parliamentary vote and doing nothing,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

He and backbench colleagues Dean Smith, Tim Wilson, Warren Entsch and Trevor Evans have circulated a draft bill to Liberal MPs, hoping the proposed religious protections will sway them in favour of a parliamentary vote.

Liberal MPs will thrash out their differences at a meeting on Monday afternoon, ahead of a joint party room meeting with the Nationals on Tuesday.

The Senate will open on Tuesday with a statement from President Stephen Parry and the government asking that former minister Matt Canavan be referred to the High Court to test whether he is eligible to sit after he discovered last month his mother registered him as an “Italian resident abroad” a decade ago.

Section 44 of the constitution bans MPs from being dual citizens, but Senator Canavan has initial legal advice his lack of consent could save his job.

The Greens are expected to refer Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam to the court, having resigned their Queensland and WA seats over dual citizenship.

It is also expected One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts will be referred over his British links.

The House of Representatives will debate laws to strengthen requirements for citizenship.

Mr Burke said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had overreached and badly misread community sentiment, particularly on plans to toughen English language proficiency requirements.

“This change is a real change in how we operate as a nation,” Mr Burke told Sky News, saying migrant communities felt betrayed.

He’s heard many people liken the new proposal to the dictation test notoriously used under the White Australia policy to stop non-whites immigrating to the new nation.

“Of all the countries with English as an official language, the five countries with a predominantly white population are the only countries where you won’t have to sit this test,” he said.

“You can imagine the volcanic reaction that many communities are having to that.”

UN bans key Nth Korea exports over tests

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea that could slash by a third the Asian state’s $US3 billion ($A3.


8 billion) annual export revenue over its two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July.

The US-drafted resolution bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood.

It also prohibits countries from increasing the current numbers of North Korean labourers working abroad, bans new joint ventures with North Korea and any new investment in current joint ventures.

“We should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem. Not even close. The North Korean threat has not left us, it is rapidly growing more dangerous,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council.

“Further action is required. The United States is taking and will continue to take prudent defensive measures to protect ourselves and our allies,” she said. Washington would continue annual joint military exercises with South Korea, Haley said.

North Korea has accused the United States and South Korea of escalating tensions by conducting military drills.

China and Russia slammed US deployment of the THAAD anti-missile defence system in South Korea. China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi called for a halt to the deployment and for any equipment in place to be dismantled.

Liu also urged North Korea to “cease taking actions that might further escalate tensions.”

US President Donald Trump hailed the vote in a Twitter message on Saturday evening.

“The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!” Trump wrote.

Trump “appreciates China’s and Russia’s cooperation in securing passage” of the resolution, the White House said in a later statement.

The US president “will continue to work with allies and partners to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to ends its threatening and destabilising behaviour,” it said.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he hoped recent remarks by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “were sincere – that the US is not seeking to dismantle the existing situation or to forcibly unite the peninsula or to militarily intervene in the country.”

While the Security Council has been divided on how to deal with other international crises like Syria, the 15-member body has remained relatively united on North Korea. Still, negotiating new measures typically takes months, not weeks.

North Korea has been under UN sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The new measures came in response to five nuclear weapons tests and four long-range missile launches.

The United States negotiated with China for a month on the resolution, then expanded negotiations to the full council on Friday.

Washington, frustrated that China has not done more to rein in North Korea, has threatened to exert trade pressure on Beijing and impose sanctions on Chinese firms doing business with Pyongyang.

The new resolution bans North Korean exports of coal. In November, the Security Council capped the North’s coal exports at $US400 million annually. China, its largest buyer, halted imports in February.

Support Indigenous schooling, PM urged

The grandson of land rights champion Galarrwuy Yunupingu says young Aboriginal kids from remote communities are being forced to choose between a decent education and their culture.


Michael Gadingura Yunupingu grew up in Adelaide without a traditional Yolngu upbringing, but had the schooling many children from remote Arnhem Land communities are denied.

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“We all, Balanda [white people] and Yolngu have to work together to figure out a way in which kids can carry on our culture yet gain as much education as possible,” he told the Garma Festival.

The 19-year-old says he’s seen countless Indigenous youngsters from remote communities dropping out of boarding schools because they can’t handle the transition to city life.

“Kids aren’t getting the opportunities therefore (they) resort to this constant lifestyle of drugs and alcohol,” he said.

He urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, listening in the crowd, to give the next generation of indigenous leaders the support they deserve to realise their potential.

“These kids are our future. This country’s future,” Mr Yunupingu said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar outlined the reluctance of many families in sending their children to boarding school, breaking a connection to country and community.

She called for culturally competent school environments, incorporating western and indigenous knowledge, to enable students to flourish.

“(And) there needs to be sufficient opportunities in a child’s own community to encourage them to come back and give back to their community when they finish their studies,” Ms Oscar said.

Turnbull’s WA GST comment ‘off the beat’

The prime minister may have showed he is out of touch with West Australian people after he claimed the media was living in a “parallel universe” over the issue of the GST revenue carve-up, analysts say.


Malcolm Turnbull spent most of last week in WA but brought little to woo voters in terms of infrastructure funding announcements or a resolution to the GST problem.

WA receives the lowest share of GST revenue and the state government last week urged Canberra to intervene over new census figures downgrading WA’s population, which it says could lead to another $1.9 billion hit.

Mr Turnbull skirted around GST questions but raised eyebrows when he claimed he had received a warm welcome to WA, which he said was contrary to media reports that people were “angry” and “wished” he would stay away.

“It is a complete parallel universe between what the media are saying and what people I’m meeting in the real world are saying to me,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.

Political analyst Harry Phillips said the prime minister seemed to be covering up a problem he did not have a solution to yet.

“I was quite amazed by his statement,” he told AAP on Sunday.

“He’s usually quite good in his public statements … but on that one, I think he was just completely off the beat.”

Prof Phillips said the GST was a “coffee table” topic in WA that was a big concern and broadly discussed, even if people did not fully understand the carve-up system.

Analyst John Phillimore agreed on the GST significance and said there otherwise would not be a Productivity Commission inquiry into it.

“Clearly it’s a bigger issue than just the media. But also, what else is he going to say, to some extent (about the warm welcome)?

“It is clearly an issue in most people’s minds and has been for some time.”

Prof Phillimore said the prime minister was “shepherded to the right people” when he was in the community, so it was no surprise he felt positive about his visit.

Analyst David Black said Mr Turnbull’s visit was as successful as expected, but there could be ramifications once the WA budget is handed down on September 7 and the extent of the financial mess is revealed.

“The fact is that there is a real issue here and there is a federal election in sight,” he said.

“WA is a state that makes a difference.”

A recent Galaxy poll suggested four Liberal-held seats in WA could be in trouble.

But Prof Black also noted WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt had a tricky job of selling the state budget.

“From Mr Turnbull’s point of view, while WA deals with its problems it might make it easier from his side,” he said.

The prime minister, whose last visit to WA was in February, promised to return several more times this year.