Outrage over sentencing of Venezuela Opposition Leader
[Aljazeera] – Supporters have rallied around the wife of Venezuela’s jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, calling for peaceful protests after he received a sentence of nearly 14 years in prison for his role in deadly anti-government demonstrations.
The European Union denounced Friday’s sentence as “harsh,” while Washington said it was “deeply troubled” by the treatment of the US-trained economist.
The ruling, which critics say is politically motivated, is expected to fan tensions in Venezuela, where runaway inflation and shortages of basic goods fuelled last year’s protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration.
Lopez was accused of inciting the violence that led to 43 deaths and about 3,000 people being wounded.
Judge Susana Barreiros found him guilty of “damage and arson, public incitement and conspiracy,” the attorney general’s office said, according to the AFP news agency.
Lilian Tintori, Lopez’s wife, gave an impassioned speech on Friday before dozens of supporters in an eastern Caracas plaza, calling for people to take to the streets one week from Saturday, as the crowd chanted: “Yes we can!”
“I call on you,” she said, to come out on September 19 “to build our victory, to take over the streets peacefully and democratically, with strict discipline and no violence”.
Tintori, who spoke after visiting Lopez in prison, read a letter from her husband in which he said: “I do not regret the decision that I made. Great causes deserve great sacrifices.”
Lopez will serve out his sentence in the military prison of Ramo Verde, where he has been held since he turned himself in shortly after the protests.
‘Substantial progress’ made in EU-Cuba talks
[CMC] – The head of the European Union’s (EU) delegation to Cuba, Christian Leffler, says there has been “substantial progress” in talks with Cuban authorities on normalising ties between the EU and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean country.
“There has been substantial progress, including in the areas of human rights, democracy and governance, and the remaining differences were narrowed even further,” Leffler said.
The EU suspended relations with Cuba in 2003 over a crackdown on journalists and activists, according to EUbusiness.
The EU began talks on restoring relations with Cuba in April 2014, aimed at persuading Havana to improve its human rights record.
Leffler said that it is “no secret” that the European view on human rights is not the same as the Cuban view on the issue, according to EUbusiness.
“So we have to find an area of understanding,” Leffler told reporters, adding that the talks “allowed for the mutual increase of understanding on both sides.”
He said this could smooth the talks at the next meeting in Brussels, Belguim in November.
The EU and Cuba have moved to accelerate the process since Havana and Washington announced a historic rapprochement in December and reopened embassies in July, EUbusiness said.
It said Brussels and Havana have now set themselves a deadline of December 31.
Cuba wants the EU to scrap its nearly 20-year “common position,” which makes restoring European ties with the island contingent on democratic reforms, said EUbusiness, adding that the 28-member bloc is pressing Cuba to sign a slate of international human rights treaties.
Meanwhile,the US Department of State said it sent a small delegation to Cuba on Friday to participate in the inaugural session of a bilateral commission with the Cuban Government.
On Thursday, the department said that Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee is heading the delegation, which includes the Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, David McKean.
Charge d’affaires ad interim, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, leads the team from the US Embassy Havana, the department said.
During the bilateral commission, the State Department said the team will meet with members of the Cuban Foreign Ministry “to discuss next steps in the normalization process and schedule dates for future discussions on shared priorities.”
“The delegation will seek agreement on priority issues for future negotiations and discuss the scope, timing, delegation level, and frequency of engagement on each issue,” the statement said.
“The delegation does not plan to enter into extensive discussion on each topic during this meeting,” it added.
More flooding in Dominica as storm remnants pass
Several roads were underwater and some trees toppled during the downpours.
There were also reports of residents stranded in some areas but, fortunately, no loss of life.
The rains came as Dominica continued the process of recovering from the widespread destruction caused by Tropical Storm Erika two weeks ago.
A flood warning had been issued before the bad weather came on Friday, amid concerns that with the land still saturated by Erika’s rains, any additional rainfall was likely to cause further flooding and landslides.
Erika resulted in more than 30 deaths, destruction to infrastructure and nine communities being declared special disaster areas.