On Venezuelan independence day, Maduro calls for dialogue as Guaido slams ‘dictatorship’

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, is seen at Venezuela's National Assembly to celebrate the 208th anniversary of Venezuela's independence in Caracas, Venezuela July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fausto Torrealba

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s bitterly divided political factions held competing commemorations of the country’s independence day on Friday, with President Nicolas Maduro calling for dialogue and opposition leader Juan Guaido decrying alleged human rights violations by Maduro’s “dictatorship.”

Speaking to a gathering of top military officials, Maduro reiterated his support for a negotiation process mediated by Norway between his socialist government and Guaido, the leader of the opposition-held National Assembly who argues Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a fraud.

“There is room for all of us within Venezuela,” Maduro said in a speech in Caracas, before calling for military exercises on July 24 to defend the South American country’s “seas, rivers and borders.”

“We must all give up something in order to reach an agreement,” he said.

Venezuela was plunged into a deep political crisis in January when Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival interim presidency, calling Maduro a usurper. He has been recognized as the rightful head of state by dozens of countries, including the United States and most South American neighbors.

But Maduro retains the recognition of Cuba, Russia and China, and remains in control of state functions and the armed forces. He calls Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet seeking to oust him in a coup.

Guaido held a separate independence day event, calling on supporters to march toward the headquarters of the military counterintelligence directorate, or DGCIM, where navy captain Rafael Acosta died last month after opposition leaders and family members said he was tortured in custody.

The march is the first major opposition gathering since a botched Guaido-led military uprising on April 30 and follow-up protests on May 1. The government responded to the failed attempt to oust Maduro with a crackdown on Guaido-aligned lawmakers and military members suspected of involvement.

This week, the United Nations human rights chief, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, published a report detailing alleged extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances and other rights violations by Venezuelan security forces in recent years.

“There is no longer any valid euphemism to characterize this regime, other than dictatorship,” Guaido told reporters earlier on Friday. “The systematic violation of human rights, the repression, the torture… it is clearly identified in the (UN)report.”

The Venezuelan government has called the report “selective” and said the UN sources lacked objectivity.

A new round of Norway-mediated talks expected for this week was called off after Acosta’s death. Opposition leaders frequently argue that Maduro’s government seeks to use dialogue to distract from its continued human rights violations.

In an apparent referral to Acosta before Maduro spoke, Commander Remigio Ceballos said the armed forces “regretted the events related to the loss of the retired naval official.” Without naming Acosta, he accused him of conspiring against the Venezuelan state, and said authorities were investigating the circumstances of his death.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Mayela Armas and Luc Cohen, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. job openings surge, point to tightening labor market

FILE PHOTO: Job seekers line up at TechFair in Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job openings rebounded sharply in March, while the pace of hiring was little changed, pointing to a growing worker shortage that could slow employment growth this year.

Despite the tightening labor market conditions, the report from the Labor Department on Tuesday also showed workers still reluctant to voluntarily quit their jobs in droves to seek opportunities elsewhere. The scarcity of workers poses a risk to the economy’s growth prospects. The economy will mark 10 years of expansion in July, the longest in history.

“The risks right now for the economic outlook going forward is there is actually a danger that companies will run out of the help they need to produce goods or sell their services,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

“The U.S. economy has never faced a time when labor shortages might endanger or cut short a long economic expansion, but now it does.”

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, surged by 346,000 to a seasonally adjusted 7.5 million, the Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, showed. The job openings rate rose to 4.7 percent from 4.5 percent in February.

Vacancies in the construction industry increased by 73,000 in March. There were 87,000 job openings in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, while real estate, rental and leasing companies had 57,000 unfilled position. Job openings in the federal government, however, decreased by 15,000 in March.

HIRING LAGGING

Hiring was little changed at 5.7 million in March. The hiring rate was steady at 3.8 percent. The lag in hiring suggests employers are experiencing difficulties finding qualified workers, a trend that implies a slowdown in job growth later this year.

There is growing anecdotal evidence of worker shortages, especially in the transportation, manufacturing and construction industries. The economy created 263,000 jobs in April, with the unemployment rate dropping two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.6 percent, the government reported last Friday.

Economists expect job growth to slow to about 150,000 per month this year, still well above the roughly 100,000 needed to keep pace with growth in the working age population.

In March, there were 0.83 job seekers for every job opening. Job openings exceeded the number of unemployed by 1.3 million. Vacancies have outpaced the unemployed for 13 straight months.

The number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs was little changed at 3.4 million in March, keeping the quits rate at 2.3 percent for a 10th straight month.

The quits rate is viewed by policymakers and economists as a measure of job market confidence. The Federal Reserve last week kept interest rates unchanged and signaled little desire to adjust monetary policy anytime soon.

“You have to hand it to the business community. Despite being on the wrong side of the tight labor market, firms are managing to keep from a major bidding war for workers and are still not losing workers to competitors,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Layoffs slipped in March, lowering the layoffs rate to 1.1 percent from 1.2 percent in the prior month. Layoffs fell in the government sector, but rose slightly in manufacturing and construction. The increase in manufacturing layoffs likely reflected redundancies in the automobile sector, which is experiencing slowing sales and an inventory overhang.

“Layoffs and discharges are extremely low, by historical standards, which reflects that employers need their workers and are prepared to make an effort to retain them,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at employment marketplace ZipRecruiter.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. retail sales, jobless claims data brighten economic picture

FILE PHOTO: People walk with shopping bags at Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, New York, U.S., December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. retail sales increased by the most in 1-1/2 years in March as households boosted purchases of motor vehicles and a range of other goods, the latest indication that economic growth picked up in the first quarter after a false start.

The economy’s enduring strength was underscored by other data on Thursday showing the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest in nearly 50 years last week.

Fears of an abrupt slowdown in activity escalated at the turn of the year after a batch of weak economic reports. But those concerns have dissipated in recent weeks amid fairly upbeat data on trade, inventories and construction spending that have suggested growth last quarter could actually be better than the moderate pace logged in the final three months of 2018.

A report from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday described economic activity as expanding at a “slight-to-moderate” pace in March and early April. The Fed’s “Beige Book” report of anecdotal information on business activity collected from contacts nationwide showed a “few” of the U.S. central bank’s districts reported “some strengthening.”

“Supported by strong labor market conditions and improving wage growth, household spending appears well positioned to increase in the coming months,” said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “Fears about the softening in the economy were overblown.”

The Commerce Department said retail sales surged 1.6 percent last month. That was the biggest increase since September 2017 and followed an unrevised 0.2 percent drop in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales would accelerate 0.9 percent in March. Retail sales in March advanced 3.6 percent from a year ago.

With March’s rebound, retail sales have now erased December’s plunge, which had put consumer spending and the overall economy on a sharply lower growth trajectory. Retail sales last month were probably lifted by tax refunds, even though they have been smaller than in previous years, following the revamping of the U.S. tax code in January 2018.

Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales rebounded 1.0 percent in March after a downwardly revised 0.3 percent decline in February. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

They were previously reported to have decreased 0.2 percent in February. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity and is being buoyed by a tightening labor market that is driving up wage growth.

STRONG LABOR MARKET

A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 192,000 for the week ended April 13, the lowest level since September 1969. Claims have now declined for five straight weeks. Economists had forecast claims would rise to 205,000 in the latest week.

Though the trend in hiring has slowed, job gains remain above the roughly 100,000 needed per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, near the 3.7 percent Fed officials project it will be by the end of the year.

The dollar was trading higher against a basket of currencies while stocks on Wall Street were mixed. Prices of U.S. Treasuries were up.

March’s strong core retail sales could result in the further upgrading of first-quarter GDP estimates. Growth forecasts for the first quarter were boosted to around a 2.5 percent annualized rate on Wednesday after data showed the U.S. trade deficit narrowed for a second straight month in February.

First-quarter growth forecasts have been raised from as low as a 0.5 percent rate following relatively strong reports on trade, inventories and construction spending. The economy grew at a 2.2 percent pace in the fourth quarter.

Another report from the Commerce Department on Thursday showed business inventories rose in February and stock accumulation in the prior month was a bit stronger than initially estimated, a potential boost to growth.

Stronger growth in the first quarter will probably not change the view that the economy will slow this year as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package diminishes and the impact of interest rate hikes over the last few years lingers.

It also is unlikely to have any impact on monetary policy after the Fed recently suspended its three-year campaign to tighten monetary policy. The central bank dropped projections for any rate hikes this year after increasing borrowing costs four times in 2018.

In March, sales at auto dealerships jumped 3.1 percent, the most since September 2017. Receipts at service stations increased 3.5 percent, likely reflecting higher gasoline prices.

Receipts at clothing stores shot up 2.0 percent, the largest increase since last May. There were also increases in sales at furniture outlets, electronics and appliances shops, and food and beverage stores. Sales at building materials and garden equipment and supplies also rose last month.

Online and mail-order retail sales increased 1.2 percent in March. Sales at restaurants and bars climbed 0.8 percent, the most since last July. But receipts at hobby, musical instrument and book stores fell 0.3 percent last month.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Explainer: Brexit basics – What is Brexit and why does it matter?

FILE PHOTO: A bus with a pro-Brexit message passes an anti-Brexit demonstrator outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019. The date is set in law – the 2018 Withdrawal Act – but the divorce has been plunged into chaos.

Below is an explainer of the Brexit basics:

BREXIT?

A blending of “Britain” and “exit,” it is the description of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. The word was coined by former lawyer Peter Wilding four years before the vote took place.

The EU, initially an attempt to tie Germany and France together and prevent another major European war, is now a group of 28 countries which trade and allow their citizens to move between the countries to live and work.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed leaving while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc.

The campaign was among the most divisive waged in Britain with accusations of lying and scare-mongering on both sides.

Supporters of remaining in the EU were accused of exaggerating threats to the economy. The pro-Brexit camp was accused of misleading voters about how much extra money could be spent on healthcare and stoking fears about immigration.

A week before the vote, a pro-EU member of parliament died after being stabbed and shot in the street.

WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Pro-Europeans fear Britain’s exit will weaken the West as it grapples with Donald Trump’s unpredictable U.S. presidency and growing assertiveness from Russia and China. It weakens Europe’s economy and removes one of its only two nuclear powers.

A disorderly Brexit would hammer the United Kingdom’s economy, the world’s fifth largest, and could disrupt trade in Europe and beyond. The shock of a chaotic Brexit would roil financial markets.

Brexit supporters say while there may be some short-term disruption, in the long-term the UK will thrive outside what they cast as a doomed experiment in German-dominated unity and excessive debt-funded welfare spending.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

The vote to leave the EU followed decades of discussion about how close the United Kingdom should be to the bloc.

Britain refused to join the forerunner to the EU, the European Economic Community when it was founded in 1957. When it did decide to join, its attempts were vetoed twice by France.

The UK became a member in 1973, only to have a crisis of confidence that led to an exit referendum two years later. Britons voted 67 to 33 percent to stay in the club in 1975.

But opposition, which partly reflected an ambivalence grounded in Britain’s imperial past, stiffened as European leaders sought greater economic and political integration. Britain never joined Europe’s currency, the euro, or participated in the EU’s Schengen Area open-borders agreement.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threatened to halt payments to the EU unless Britain got a refund. But her opposition to greater European integration led to her being ousted in a party coup.

In an attempt to end splits in his Conservative Party, the former Prime Minister David Cameron held the 2016 “in-out” referendum.

WHO ARE BREXITEERS?

Supporters of Brexit. They say leaving will give the United Kingdom back control over its own destiny and allow it to exploit global economic opportunities beyond Europe.

They argue the United Kingdom will save billions of pounds in membership fees, regain control of its economic policies and regulations and the right to restrict immigration from countries in the EU.

WHO ARE REMAINERS?

Opponents of Brexit. They say leaving will hammer the British economy and diminish the United Kingdom’s global clout.

As a bloc, the EU is Britain’s most important trading partner and its greatest source of foreign direct investment. Remainers say an exit will disrupt trade and dislocate supply chains in Europe and beyond.

SO WHY THE CHAOS?

After months of negotiation, British Prime Minister Theresa May reached agreement on the terms of Britain’s departure with EU leaders. But her plan to accept EU customs rules on goods while ending free movement of people has drawn criticism from both pro-Brexit and pro-EU lawmakers, the Northern Irish DUP party, which props up her minority government, and members of the opposition.

May says the choice before parliament is her deal, no deal or no Brexit.

CAN BREXIT BE STOPPED?

The lack of support in parliament for May’s divorce deal has stirred interest in the possibility that Britain may hold a second vote on whether to stay or leave.

May has ruled out a second referendum. The main opposition Labour Party is also skeptical, fearing another vote would divide supporters.

If Parliament did agree to hold another referendum, Britain would have to ask for an extension to the timetable for leaving the EU to allow enough time to hold the vote.

(Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Janet Lawrence)

U.S. job openings jump to record high in March US-USA-ECONOMY-JOBS

FILE PHOTO: Job seekers line up at TechFair in Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job openings surged to a record high in March, suggesting that a recent slowdown in hiring was probably the result of employers having difficulties finding qualified workers.

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, increased by 472,000 to a seasonally adjusted 6.6 million, the Labor Department said on Tuesday in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS.

March’s job openings were the highest since the data series started in December 2000 and pushed the job openings rate up three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.2 percent. Job growth slowed in March and April after an outsized gain in February.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Hundreds join Hollywood #MeToo march against sexual abuse

People participate in a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California U.S. November 12, 2017.

By Jane Ross and Laith Agha

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Hundreds of people marched in the heart of Hollywood on Sunday to support victims of sexual assault and harassment, inspired by a social media campaign that has portrayed such abuse as a pervasive feature of American life.

The #MeToo march and rally followed a relentless series of accusations by men and women who said they were victimized by high-powered figures in the entertainment industry. But marchers said they also represented men and women who had been sexually abused as children and in other situations.

“I’ve been sexually assaulted multiple times throughout my life,” said marcher Tara McNamarra, 21, of Los Angeles. “It’s affected me in every aspect of my life.”

She said the march was cleansing after years of not being taken seriously about having been abused.

Women made up a majority of the crowd, although men made a strong showing of support.

Steven Murphy, 51, of Los Angeles, said he regularly witnessed sexual harassment while working as an accountant in the healthcare industry.

“I’ve had personal experiences of friends, of co-workers who were harassed, and nothing ever came of it,” Murphy said. “They were made out to be the guilty ones. They were pressured and harassed by the company for speaking out against assault and sexual harassment in the workplace.”

The marchers started at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, walking along the noted “Walk of Fame” until they reached the Los Angeles headquarters of news network CNN at Sunset and Cahuenga Boulevards.

Along the way, participants noted the stars of actors and producers accused of sexual harassment.

The allegations have inspired an online campaign, tagged #MeToo, that has encouraged men and women in all walks of life to reveal their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault, often years after they occurred.

Among the most recent allegations, five women detailed sexual misconduct accusations against Emmy-winning comedian Louis C.K. in The New York Times on Thursday. He admitted to the misconduct alleged against him in a statement on Friday and apologized for his actions.

More than 50 women have said that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them over the past three decades. Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone. Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the allegations.

Earlier this month, actor Kevin Spacey apologized to actor Anthony Rapp, who had accused him of trying to seduce him in 1986 when Rapp was 14. Spacey’s representatives said later he was seeking treatment.

Eight current and former employees of the Netflix TV show “House of Cards,” who were not identified, also have accused Spacey, the star of the show, of sexual misconduct, CNN has reported.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Editing by Peter Cooney)

 

Anti-racism activists to march from Charlottesville to Washington

Participants of "Charlottesville to D.C: The March to Confront White Supremacy" begin a ten-day trek to the nation's capital from Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Julia Rendleman

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anti-racism activists will begin a 10-day march on Monday from Charlottesville to Washington to protest against a far-right rally in the Virginia city and what they called President Donald Trump’s reluctance to condemn its white nationalist organizers.

The “March to Confront White Supremacy” is the latest demonstration following the Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, when one woman was killed after a man drove a car into a crowd of anti-racism counterprotesters.

Trump received fierce criticism from across the political spectrum after he first blamed “many sides” for the violence. Under pressure, he later condemned neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan by name, but that did little to appease his opponents.

March organizers said that about 200 people will begin walking on Monday evening from Charlottesville, a liberal-leaning college town that is home to the University of Virginia. That number is expected to rise as the march nears its end in Washington on Sept. 6.

“What we’re trying to do is unite the country,” one of the organizers, Cassius Rudolph of People’s Consortium for Human and Civil Rights, said. “We’re standing up to confront white supremacy.”

Other organizers include the Women’s March, which oversaw a massive anti-Trump demonstration in Washington in January, and the Movement for Black Lives, Rudolph said.

The march will begin at Emancipation Park, which was the focus of the Aug. 12 rally called by white nationalists to protest against the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

There were hours of clashes in the streets and a 32-year-old local woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when a car crashed into a group of counterprotesters. The alleged driver, 20-year-old Ohio man James Fields Jr., faces multiple charges including murder.

Charlottesville police charged two men over the weekend in connection with an Aug. 12 assault. Daniel Borden, 18, is in custody in Cincinnati, police said in a statement, while Alex Ramos, 33, is at large.

A third man, Richard Preston, 52, was charged with firing a weapon during the rally and is being held in Towson, Maryland, the police statement said.

 

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Alistair Bell)

 

Chicago policemen plead not guilty to cover-up in shooting of black teen

A Chicago police officer attends a news conference announcing the department's plan to hire nearly 1,000 new police officers in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

By Chris Kenning and Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Three current and former Chicago police officers pleaded not guilty on Monday to felony charges of conspiring to cover up the fatal shooting of an African-American teenager by a white officer, a killing that sparked days of protests.

Detective David March and Officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney were each charged last month with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.

The men entered their pleas at their arraignment in a packed Chicago courtroom before Circuit Judge Diane Gordon Cannon. The next hearing is Aug. 29.

The indictments arose from the 2014 incident in which Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Video footage of the incident showed he was shot as he walked away from police while holding a pocket knife.

March, Walsh and Gaffney, who were on the scene the night of the shooting, are alleged to have conspired to conceal the facts of McDonald’s killing to protect their fellow officer from criminal investigation and prosecution, according to prosecutors.

A police dash-cam video of the shooting, released more than a year after the incident, led to days of protests and thrust Chicago into a national debate over the use of excessive force by police against minorities. The indictment said the officers created false reports on the killing of McDonald.

Walsh and March are no longer with the force. Gaffney was suspended without pay, Chicago police representatives said. All three men are white.

Tom Breen, Walsh’s lawyer, told reporters that his client would be acquitted. The judge set bond at $50,000 and released the men on the their own recognizance.

Van Dyke, accused of murder in the McDonald shooting, pleaded not guilty in 2015. In March, he pleaded not guilty to 16 new counts of aggravated battery. No trial date has been set.

The cases come after Chicago police in May finalized stricter limits on when officers can use firearms and other force, the latest attempt to reform a department roiled by misconduct and criticism in the wake of McDonald’s death.

Last month, members of Black Lives Matter and other groups sued the city to force federal court oversight of those reforms.

“Until people, particularly police officers that do wrong, are held accountable and arrested and put in jail, until that happens there will be no trust among the community and law enforcement,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, an activist who was at the hearing.

 

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Matthew Lewis)

 

Venezuelan opposition activists march to Leopoldo Lopez’ jail

Opposition supporters attend a rally in support of political prisoners and against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Los Teques, Venezuela April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Girish Gupta

LOS TEQUES, Venezuela (Reuters) – Hundreds of activists marched on Friday to the hilltop jail of Venezuela’s best-known detained opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in the latest of a month of protests against the socialist government.

Security forces blocked access to the decrepit-looking penitentiary next to a slum in Los Teques, an hour’s drive from the capital Caracas, as the demonstrators shouted “Leopoldo!” and held signs reading “No To Dictatorship!”

This month’s wave of protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s government has led to at least 29 deaths in the worst unrest since 2014 rallies championed by Lopez, who was arrested then and convicted of instigating violence.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 jailed anti-Maduro activists.

Supporters say Lopez, the U.S.-educated leader of hardline Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners who symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

“This shows yet again the fear Nicolas Maduro has of people in the street,” said Popular Will legislator Juan Mejia at the National Guard barriers outside Ramo Verde jail.

Some inhabitants of a nearby slum came out of their homes to cheer as the protesters marched by.

“We would never have marched here before because it was very dangerous and pro-Chavista,” said demonstrator and marketing consultant Kailee Shima, 36, referring to the ruling “Chavista” movement named for Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Elsewhere, relatives of imprisoned activists and supporters turned up at other jails, including the Caracas headquarters of the state intelligence service Sebin.

“We are opposite one of the dictatorship’s iconic prisons where they keep dozens of political prisoners, opposite the biggest torture center in the land,” said another opposition lawmaker Gaby Arellano.

Government officials accuse the opposition of inventing torture stories to sway international opinion against the Maduro government and create the conditions for a foreign intervention of the South American oil producer.

The opposition coalition, which now enjoys majority support after long being in the shadow of “Chavismo” especially during the 14-year rule of Chavez himself, is trying to keep the pressure on Maduro with daily protests.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Cyprus leaders seek new U.N. peace summit in early March: envoy

Cypriot flag

ATHENS (Reuters) – The leaders of ethnically-split Cyprus have asked the United Nations to prepare for a new peace conference in early March with guarantor powers Britain, Turkey and Greece, a U.N. envoy said on Wednesday.

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci also agreed at a meeting to reconvene weekly through the month of February to try to resolve outstanding issues, envoy Espen Barth Eide said.

“The leaders requested the United Nations to prepare, in consultation with the guarantor powers, for the continuation of the Conference on Cyprus at political level in early March,” Eide said in a statement.

“They underscored their strong resolve and determination to maintain the current momentum,” said Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister who has been one of a long line of envoys trying to broker peace on the eastern Mediterranean island.

Cyprus was a British colony until 1960 and its Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have lived estranged on either side of a U.N.-monitored ceasefire line since 1974, when Turkish forces invaded the island in response to a brief coup by Greek Cypriot militants seeking union with Greece.

The seeds of partition were planted years earlier when Turkish Cypriots withdrew from a power-sharing system after the outbreak of communal violence, which spurred the dispatch of what is now one of the oldest U.N. peacekeeping contingents.

One of the 1960 treaties under which Cyprus was granted independence allows Greece, Turkey and Britain intervention rights in the event of a breakdown of constitutional order.

The foreign ministers of guarantor powers Britain, Greece and Turkey met Cypriot leaders in Geneva in mid-January to weigh security guarantees, seen as crucial to a reunification deal.

That meeting was inconclusive. Turkey and Turkish Cypriots insisted on continued guarantor status while Greece and the Greek Cypriots insisted the current system be dismantled, saying Turkey had abused it with its 1970s invasion and continued stationing of 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Mark Heinrich)