Venezuela’s Maduro threatened by strike, economic action

US President Donald Trump on Monday warned Caracas of “economic actions” if Nicolas Maduro delivers on his bid to rewrite the constitution, calling the Venezuelan president a “bad leader who dreams of being a dictator.

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“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement.

“If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions,” he said, without elaborating on what those measures would be.

Trump praised the Venezuelan opposition’s unsanctioned vote that saw more than a third of the country’s voters reject Maduro’s plan to redraft the constitution.

“Yesterday, the Venezuelan people again made clear that they stand for democracy, freedom, and rule of law,” Trump said.

“Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”

The US State Department also applauded Sunday’s symbolic poll, and encouraged “governments in the hemisphere and around the world to call on President Maduro to suspend this process which only seeks to undermine democracy in Venezuela.”

‘Final offensive’

The strike call, issued on Monday, was part of what the opposition called a “final offensive” aimed at forcing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro out through early elections before his term ends in 2019.

On Sunday, in an event organized by the opposition, more than a third of Venezuela’s 19 million voters rejected Maduro’s bid to have a citizens’ body called a “Constituent Assembly” elected on July 30 to redraft the constitution.

Several countries lauded the balloting.

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that Maduro should suspend his plan, or he “risks further polarizing the country and increasing confrontation.”

However Maduro and his government, backed by a loyal military, have dug in against the opposition tactics and the international criticism.

Despite growing public anger at food and medicine shortages under a spiralling economic crisis that has fed into the opposition movement, authorities in Caracas portray the efforts against them as illegitimate and the result of interference from the “imperialist” United States.

RELATED READING’Escalation’ to follow

“We are calling all the country to take part in a massive and violence-free protest through a nationwide civic strike for 24 hours,” said one leader in the opposition coalition, Freddy Guevara.

He said the stoppage was a “mechanism for pressure and to prepare for the definitive escalation to take place next week.”

There were fears, however, that the stepped-up confrontation could worsen violence in Venezuela’s streets. Since April, when anti-Maduro protests and police pushback turned bloody, 96 people have died.

The opposition set the scene for the strike with its vote Sunday, which it called a “plebiscite” but which the government dismissed as “illegal.”

Electoral authorities, who have systematically sided with Maduro against the opposition-controlled legislature, denied authorization for the balloting.

Academics who oversaw the symbolic poll as guarantors of its credibility counted a turnout of more than seven million voters, undermining legitimacy for Maduro’s future Constituent Assembly.

Brazil’s foreign ministry said in a statement “the high turnout in the plebiscite… was an unmistakable sign the Venezuelan people want democracy quickly restored.” It, too, called on Maduro to shelve his Constituent Assembly idea.

Change wanted

Venezuela’s opposition, invigorated by the voter support and the international reactions, clearly was keen to seize the moment.

“The mandate the people have given us is clear,” said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Borges said the vote showed a public desire to see Maduro leave power before his term ends.

Political analyst John Magdaleno told AFP that “there is evidence of a persistent and durable demand for political change.”

The result of Sunday’s vote may not have been binding, but Venezuela “sent a clear message to the national executive and the world,” announced Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha, one of several experts who oversaw Sunday’s vote.

Garcia noted that 6,492,381 voted in the country and 693,789 voted abroad, according to a count of 95 percent of ballots. Final results would be released Monday, she said.

According to Borges, once all ballots are counted, there will be some 7.5 million votes, which he said would be sufficient to overturn Maduro’s mandate if there were a recall referendum.

To lend weight to the vote, a group of former Latin American presidents, including Mexico’s Vicente Fox, who was declared “persona non grata” by the government, took part as observers.

But Luis Vicente Leon, head of the polling firm Datanalisis, said the opposition’s challenge now was to leverage the vote to “crack” Maduro’s stance and “press for negotiations that would give an peaceful chance for change.”

The opposition has accused Maduro of driving the country into bankruptcy, and of planning to use the Constituent Assembly to entirely sideline the legislature.

For many ordinary Venezuelans suffering under shortages of basic goods, sky-high inflation and climbing unemployment, the vote was a way of expressing frustration at the president and his policies.

Yet Maduro has insisted his proposed Constituent Assembly is “the only path” to peace and economic recovery. Thus far, he has shown no sign of backing down.

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Skirt-wearing model causes a stir in Saudi Arabia

The woman was depicted in a Snapchat video walking around a historic fort wearing a skirt and short-sleeved shirt.

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The woman, known professionally as ‘Khulood’, caused outrage for wearing clothes seen to be in contravention of the country’s strict dress codes.

Women in Saudi Arabia are required to wear loose-fitting robes called abayas as well as a headscarf when in public. Some women opt to wear the niqab that covers most of their faces.

The video sparked heated debate on social media, with some even calling for her to be arrested according to the BBC.

Saudi Arabia’s religious police, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, said it is aware of the video and is in contact with the relevant authorities.

The footage is believed to have been shot at Ushayqir Heritage Village, around 150 km north of the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Some images circulated pixelated the bare legs and arms.

Saudi Arabian women are required to wear full-length robes and head coverings in public.Twitter

Some commentators praised her bravery, with others defending her by noting that US President Donald Trump’s wife and daughter did not wear the traditional coverings during a May visit to the country.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also chose not to wear the abaya or headscarf when visiting Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

Saudi Arabia is considered to have some of the most restrictive laws on women’s rights in the world.

In June, rights Amnesty International reported Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul had been detained by authorities for the second time.

She was previously held after being caught driving – the only country in the world to not allow women to do so.

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Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’ vote needed: Referendum Council

In its final meeting in Sydney with the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, the Referendum Council revealed it had made just a single recommendation on constitutional change.

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It says the creation of a parliamentary body, through which Indigenous Australians can have a voice on laws that affect them, is the only way ahead.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, both leaders agreed in part on the way forward for Indigenous Australians.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says while it is a bold idea, the report is short on detail.

“We do not want to embark, I’m sure none of us do, in some sort of exercise in heroic failure. I have some considerable experience in trying to change the constitution and know better than most how hard it is. We need to ensure that any changes that are proposed are ones that meet both the expectations of first Australians but will also bring together all Australians.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the idea is not impossible and his party is ready to work with all political parties and the community.

“These are legitimate aspirations. It is the key recommendation of this report and we can’t shy away from that fact. They’re big changes, as the Prime Minister has said. I do not believe they are beyond us. My party is ready to work with all the political parties, Indigneous leaders and the broader community in terms of final proposals for constitutional change. As I said at the start, the delegates at Uluru said that in 1967 we were counted and now in 2017 we are set to be heard.”

The Council, which was tasked in 2015 with finding a way forward on constitutional recognition of Indigenous people, is warning if the project is not chosen it might as well go on the backburner for 20 years.

The report follows months of consultation, which culminated in a summit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders at Uluru in May.

It did not recommend any other change be made to the constitution but the Council said a Declaration of Recognition should be drafted, containing inspiring and unifying words articulating Australia’s shared history, heritage and aspirations.

This declaration should then be legislated by all Australian parliaments.

The report also calls for the establishment of a Makarrata, or agreement-making Commission, and a process to facilitate what it calls Truth-Telling.

Referendum Council co-chair Pat Anderson says the parliamentary body will recognise the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first peoples of Australia.

“Our report is about redistributing power and resetting for once and for all. God, let’s do it this time, resetting the relationship between us all. This in our view is substantive change and it also meaningfully recognises us. We have to fix this. We just can’t go on like this.”

Labour Senator Patrick Dodson says a referendum would be easy but the Government needs to fully support the proposition before any plans can move forward.

“I think you could simply have a set of words that said, “There ought to be an Aboriginal voice to the Parliament. Do you agree?” But I think Australian voters would find that a bit difficult because they would want to know what it is going to do, how’s it going to be constituted, what’s its functions going to be, and really is it going to impact with the process of Parliament anyway? Unfortunately I think we are going in circles a bit at the moment. I don’t think we have a clear line of sight as to where any constitutional change is going and whether it is going to take place or not.”

The next step is to outline a plan for how to achieve the aims set out in the meeting.

 

 

Emotional unveiling of Netherlands MH17 memorial

Family members and politicians from around the world gathered in Amsterdam to remember the lives lost on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

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The memorial site is a short drive from Schipol airport, where three years ago 298 passengers boarded the fateful flight.

A curved steel monument inscribed with the names of those killed in the disaster was unveiled during the ceremony.

Evert van Zijtveld is the Chairman of the MH17 Disaster Foundation and lost his daughter and son in the disaster.

He said the new monument would give loved ones somewhere to mourn.

“We now have a beautiful monument. A monument where we can commemorate together. And where you can commemorate in peace by yourself and share the sadness to retrieve beautiful memories of our loved ones.”

There are 298 trees – one to represent each victim – planted at the memorial site in the shape of a ribbon to symbolise hope and the future.

Mr van Zijtveld says the search for justice will continue.

“The realisation of this monument doesn’t mean we’ve finished our work. The foundation ‘Flight Disaster MH17’ won’t sit still and won’t be silent until the guilty have been found.”

As the Royal Netherlands air force orchestra played, the Dutch king and queen joined local children placing sunflowers at the foot of the monument.

Much of the wreckage of flight MH17 came down in a field bordered by sunflowers.

During the ceremony more than 50 relatives read out the names and ages of those lost, many in tears with their voices breaking with emotion.

“Our beloved son and brother, Jack Samuel O’Brien, 25 years.”

“To our beloved husband, father and grandfather, Nicoll Charles Anderson Norris, 68 years.”

“Our beautiful children, Mo Masland, 12, Evie Masland, 10, and Otis Masland, 8.”

The event concluded with a minute’s silence.

A memorial service was also held in eastern Ukraine where local residents gathered at the crash site for a religious ceremony.

Last year international investigators concluded that the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Russian-made Buk missile over eastern Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian separatists.

Moscow rejects the findings.

 

 

Migrants are stopping regional areas from shrinking

 

Rather than being an unsettling force, international migrants are helping to provide stability to the regional Australian communities they settle in.

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A considerable number of new arrivals are also younger and have the potential to build families and work in these communities.

Research with the Regional Australia Institute, examining the latest 2016 Census data, found 151 regional local government areas were helping to offset declining population in regional areas by attracting international migrants.

We can see that, for many small towns, the overseas-born are the only source of population growth. A majority of these places rely on primary industry for economic viability. Although predominantly rural, these places are not in the most remote parts of Australia.

Growth of Australian-born and overseas-born population, 2011-16

Of the 550 local government areas we reviewed, 175 regional areas increased their population, while 246 did not; 151 increased their overseas-born and decreased their Australian-born population. Only 20 areas increased in Australian-born population and decreased in overseas-born population.

We also found that 128 regional areas increased both Australian-born and overseas-born population. Another 116 regional areas decreased in both Australian-born and overseas-born population.

Population change between 2011-16 by count of local government area

Regional Australian Institute

Darwin is one example of where international migration has helped counter population decline. At the 2011 Census, Darwin had 45,442 people recorded as born in Australia and 19,455 born elsewhere. By 2016, the number of Australian-born locals had reduced to 44,953 and the number of overseas-born had increased to 24,961.

Without this increase in overseas-born residents, the Darwin population would have decreased. The local economy would likely have suffered as a result.

The problem of shrinking regional towns

Ever since the influx of immigrants following the second world war, the settlement of international migrants has been overwhelmingly focused on large metropolitan centres. This has been especially evident for recently arrived immigrants and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Migrants perceive metropolitan areas as presenting a higher likelihood of finding compatriots and better access to employment, as well as education and health services. Large cities have therefore been considered the most appealing settlement locations, with Sydney and Melbourne the most popular.

If settlement of international migrants had been proportional to the overall population distribution in Australia, an additional 125,000 migrants would have settled in regional Australia between 2006 and 2011.

In a concerted effort to promote the social and economic viability of regional communities, in 2004 the federal government started a campaign to increase migrant settlement throughout different areas of the country.

Regional settlement of migrants has since been encouraged across levels of government as a “win-win scenario” for new arrivals and host communities alike.

What international migrants bring

In the past decade, there has been a particular focus on secondary migration to regional areas. That is, relocating international arrivals from metropolitan areas to regional ones.

Proactive community-business partnerships and local government initiatives have propelled this process. For example, in the Victorian town of Nhill, the local arm of the poultry production company Luv-a-Duck worked with settlement service provider AMES Australia to help more than 160 Karen refugees find work in the area between 2010 and 2015.

In another town, Dalwallinu in Western Australia, the population was in decline and local infrastructure was deemed underused. In response, the local council has worked closely with residents since 2010 to attract skilled migrants.

Notwithstanding the challenges involved in attraction and retention, international migrants remain a vital asset for building regional economies and communities. They help stem skilled labour shortages in these areas – for example, by filling much-needed doctor and nursing positions.

International migrants are also key contributors to the unskilled workforce, often filling positions that domestic workers are unwilling to take on. For example, abattoirs and poultry plants are important businesses in regional Australia. Many would be unable to operate without international migrants, as many local residents do not consider this kind of work “acceptable employment”.

As a consequence of the various efforts to spread the settlement of overseas arrivals, the number of international migrants living and working in non-metropolitan Australia has increased. Between 2006 and 2011, 187,000 international migrants settled outside the major capital cities.

Still, regional areas have remained underrepresented as a settlement location. Despite regional Australia being home to about one-third of the population, less than one-fifth of all new arrivals between 2006 and 2011 settled in a regional area.

For regional areas to make the most of the many advantages migrants have to offer, there needs to be more focused policy that encourages and assists regional settlement across the country. This policy needs to be informed by the work in a growing number of regional communities (like Nhill and Dalwallinu) that already draw on international migration to combat population loss and persistent labour shortages. By encouraging more international migrants to call regional Australia “home”, we can start focusing on ensuring regional prosperity for the long term.

Emily Longstaff works as a Senior Research Assistant for the Regional Australia Institute.

Spotless waves white flag in Downer battle

Spotless Group’s directors have backflipped and recommended shareholders accept a $1.

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3 billion takeover bid from engineering company Downer EDI.

The Spotless board had until Monday recommended shareholders reject the offer but on Tuesday said they had changed their minds, “reluctantly” recommending shareholders accept the offer.

“We continue to believe in the strong underlying fundamentals of the Spotless business, however now that Downer owns 67.279 per cent of Spotless and will control a majority of the Board from Wednesday, on balance, we reluctantly recommend that shareholders accept the Downer Offer,” Spotless chairman Garry Hounsell said in a statement.

The directors said they had changed their position because the Downer directors who will control the Spotless board from Wednesday cannot be relied upon to advance the company’s strategy to boost earnings growth.

“This reconstituted Board may not undertake the strategy reset in the manner which the current Board was confident would drive both strong earnings and cash-flow growth over the medium term,” the statement said.

Downer has nominated four directors to join the Spotless board: two of its non-executive directors, Philip Garling and Grant Thorne, its chief financial officer Michael Ferguson and former Downer non-executive director, John Humphrey.

Three current non-executive Spotless directors of Spotless – Diane Grady, Nick Sherry and Julie Coates – will retire and Mr Hounsell will continue as chairman, while Simon McKeon and Spotless chief executive and managing director Martin Sheppard will remain as directors.

Downer notified the ASX that it passed the 67 per cent mark on Monday, after launching its hostile takeover bid in March.

It is offering $1.15 for each Spotless share, valuing the facilities management firm at $1.3 billion.

Last month the Spotless board said the company had positive momentum, having reduced its operational complexity by selling a bundle of about 250 small cleaning contracts in New Zealand, and had started delivering services under a major contract at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Shares in Spotless were flat at $1.15 at 1125 AEST while Downer was also unchanged at $6.28.

South Africa crush England to level series

Defeat was Joe Root’s first as captain in his second game in charge, and England’s eighth loss in 13 matches.

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But it was the manner of their capitulation inside 45 overs and with a day and a half to spare that will trouble Root most.

Instead of mounting the required rearguard action, England collapsed to 133 all out, with the last three wickets falling without the addition of a run.

The wickets were shared among four bowlers with man-of-the-match Vernon Philander (3-24), Keshav Maharaj (3-42) and Chris Morris (2-7) taking the honors.

South Africa outplayed England in every aspect of the game, with the tourists’ first innings lasting one ball longer, at 96.2 overs, than England’s two combined.

Hopes that England might chase down a world-record 474 runs for victory were dispelled by the second over when Philander removed Keaton Jennings’ off-stump, following up soon afterwards by having Gary Ballance for lbw.

Both Jennings (3) and Ballance (4) will find their positions under pressure after contributing just 44 and 85 runs respectively in four innings this series.

With their departure, England looked to Root and former captain Alastair Cook for resistance but the excellent Morris claimed both batsmen before lunch, bowling Root (8) and bouncing out Cook (42) with a vicious lifter.

The hosts fell away alarmingly after the interval when Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali surrendered their wickets to poor shots while Philander removed the dangerous Ben Stokes with the sharpest of return catches.

The final indignity came when Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Jimmy Anderson all fell on 133, leaving former England captain Michael Vaughan to post on Twitter, “This is absolutely terrible ……. Far too much talent in this team to play like this.”

Root offered a more diplomatic assessment, saying: “It has been a tough week. We weren’t good enough with the bat for the whole game. We prepared very well and had two good practice days.”

England have delayed selection ahead of the third test, which starts at the Oval on July 27, and could make changes.

By contrast, South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis was delighted, dedicating the win to absent coach Russell Domingo, who missed the game following a family bereavement. “It was for Russell,” he said.

Du Plessis added he admired the way his side refused to relinquish their stranglehold once they got on top.

“It was important to get into a position of strength and not lose our momentum,” he said.

(The story fixes dropped letter in Maharaj in para 4)

(Writing by Neil Robinson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Liberal MPs accused of defending factions

Two federal Liberal MPs have been accused of leading a factional push to “destroy reform” ahead of a party convention this weekend.

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About 1500 NSW Liberal faithful will debate reforms, which would allow more grassroots members to have a say in selecting candidates through local plebiscites, at a special convention in Sydney.

Federal NSW MPs Alex Hawke and Julian Leeser are gathering the numbers for a modest plan to change the way candidates are preselected, heading off an alternative set of broader changes being championed by former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Walter Villatora, who is president of Mr Abbott’s Warringah federal electorate conference, said in an email to “democratic reform” supporters the party’s factions are fighting a rear-guard action.

“The factions plan to see off the plebiscite push by supporting a new set of party rules that contain democratic window dressing, but will ensure what at best appears to be the smallest possible transfer of power from the state executive to the ordinary branch volunteers,” he wrote.

“The Hawke/Leeser reforms will cement-in factional domination for another generation.”

The motions being brought by Mr Hawke and Mr Leeser would exempt sitting MPs from plebiscites, impose an “eligibility test” for candidates, enforce an “activity test” for members seeking to have a vote and put minimum time limits on membership of the party before members could vote in preselections.

Mr Villatora and other democratic reformers argue the changes should go further to ensure “dud” sitting MPs could be replaced and a broader number of members – including those with no time to regularly attend meetings or are new to the party – could have a say in candidate selection.

The convention will be addressed on Saturday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Liberal federal president Nick Greiner.

My sister is dying: Samuel Johnson

Gold Logie winning actor Samuel Johnson says his sister Connie is in palliative care and is “actively dying”.

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The sad news was posted on his Love Your Sister cancer fundraising Facebook page on Monday.

“Con’s needed a lot of quiet time lately to try and comprehend the total headf****ery that ‘actively dying’ brings,” Johnson wrote.

The actor said his sister had taken time out from phone calls and social media as she began her most difficult challenge yet.

“In true Connie style she’s been colouring in to keep the nasty thoughts at bay,” he wrote.

“She said to tell you that there’s life in the old dog yet.”

Ms Johnson’s battle with cancer began as an 11-year-old when she was diagnosed with an aggressive bone tumour in her leg.

Now 40, she has terminal breast cancer which has spread to her lungs, liver, pelvis, spine and knee.

Samuel Johnson quit acting last year to focus on fund raising for the the Love Your Sister cancer charity he set up in response to his sister’s diagnosis.

He pledged to his 380,000 Facebook followers to raise $10 million before taking another acting job.

Johnson also travelled around Australia on a unicycle to raise funds for cancer research.

More than 7000 people have commented on Johnson’s social media post, many thanking the siblings for their hard work.

“Connie, Sam you created the village. You created a community, and that community are all thinking of you. Feel our love,” Susan Munroe wrote.

“Some people are here for a little while to touch hearts and change the world. What an incredible woman she is,” added Wendy Gh.

“Damn this post just broke my heart. How does one prepare for such an ordeal? How does ones family deal with then enormity? F*** you cancer!!!!,” Melissa Felton said.

Welfare site overhaul to ease call demand

The federal government is trying to wean welfare recipients off its over-stretched telephone services with a new-look website.

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Callers trying to contact Centrelink were met with busy signals more than 42 million times between July 1 and April 30.

The figure – which breaks down to almost 140,000 blocked calls per day – has almost doubled in two years.

For those who do get through, the welfare agency’s average call wait time is about 15 minutes, with some groups of people kept on hold significantly longer.

The human services department has spent more than six months redesigning its website to make it easier and faster for people to find information.

Meanwhile, Centrelink is hiring an extra 250 phone operators to chip away at the mountain of missed calls and reduce call wait times.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge is hopeful the revamped website – rebuilt with help from the Plain English Foundation – reduces demand on call and service centres.

“Many people call Centrelink for basic information that is available online,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Simple and user-friendly online information will help them find this info online next time and the positive responses we’re receiving through early testing is very encouraging.”

Punters will be able to try out the new design and provide feedback before the website goes live in coming months.

Eugenia Grammatikakis, from the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, is among those keeping a close eye on the website rollout.

“Anything done to simplify the process of using an online channel to access government services is welcome,” she told AAP.

But many of society’s most vulnerable – including older Australians and those for whom English is not their first language – cannot access online services.

“It is critical that these vulnerable Australians can access essential services in person or by telephone,” Ms Grammatikakis said.