Rabu, 19 Mac 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Alberta Premier Redford resigns following expenses scandal

Posted: 19 Mar 2014 08:45 PM PDT

CALGARY (Reuters) - Alberta Premier Alison Redford said on Wednesday she would resign as leader of the oil-rich Canadian province following an expenses scandal that sank her party's popularity.

Redford became Alberta's first female premier when she won leadership of the ruling Progressive Conservative party in 2011. She came from behind in the polls to win a majority government in an election the following year.

"Too much time has been spent over the last few weeks on questions of loyalties and allegiances," she told reporters in Alberta's provincial capital Edmonton.

"I am not prepared to allow party and caucus infighting to get in the way of building a better future for our province and for all Albertans and that is why today I am announcing, with profound optimism for Alberta's future, I am resigning as premier of Alberta effective this Sunday evening."

Redford's departure comes after the Progressive Conservative government, which has run the Western Canadian province for more than four decades, suffered another defection on Monday in the latest protest against her leadership.

Donna Kennedy-Glans, a junior member of Redford's cabinet, said on Monday she would resign as associate minister for electricity and renewable energy and sit as an independent in the provincial legislature.

The resignation was the second from the Progressive Conservative caucus in less than a week and followed a series of controversies related to Redford's travel and spending habits.

Redford agreed earlier this month to repay C$45,000 ($40,300) spent on first-class tickets for her and an aide to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral. During her career as a lawyer Redford briefly worked with the former South African leader.

She also repaid the costs of taking her daughter's friends on government aircraft. She has been criticized for using the planes to attend party fundraising events.

Last week Len Webber resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus to sit as an independent. Like Kennedy-Glans, Webber represents a constituency in Calgary, the province's largest city and home to most of its oil industry.

While announcing his departure, Webber said Redford was "not a nice lady."

CBC News reported on Monday that 10 members met in secret on the weekend to consider whether they would leave Redford's government and sit as independents.

Even so, Redford's abrupt resignation came as a surprise to some observers. She will remain a member of the legislative assembly.

"Despite the pressure she has been under I thought if she was going to resign she would do it in a month or so and have a plan set out in terms of a new leader," said Bruce Cameron, a pollster with consultancy Return on Insight in Calgary.

"It may have been motivated by some potential high-level defections that were threatened."


Speculation now turns to who will take over as leader of Canada's wealthiest province.

Alberta, the largest source of oil imported into the United States, is flush with cash from production from the oil sands in the northern part of the province around Fort McMurray.

But while the Alberta government's operating budget is in surplus, Redford spent heavily on capital programs to cope with rapid population growth. This added billions in debt to a province that prided itself on being debt-free before her election.

Redford won 61 of 87 seats with 44 percent of the vote in the last election. An Angus Reid online poll published on Monday by the Edmonton Journal pegged current support for the party at just 23 percent, half of that commanded by the opposition Wildrose Party.

The Progressive Conservative caucus will elect an interim leader by Sunday and is likely to elect a new leader within four to six months, Cameron said.

Potential leadership candidates include Deputy Premier Dave Hancock, Finance Minister Doug Horner, Solicitor General Jonathan Dennis and Minister of Service Alberta Doug Griffiths.

One of the key tasks facing the new leader will be helping Alberta's energy industry secure access to new markets and alleviate pipeline congestion that has weighed on oil prices and eaten into government royalties.

Redford made progress last year in reaching a tentative agreement with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark on the conditions that would need to met for controversial pipelines to be built to the Pacific Coast.

"We ... made significant progress in bilateral relations between our provinces, helping to secure our shared economic and environmental future," Clark said in a statement following Redford's resignation.

(Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Additional writing by Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Venezuela arrests opposition mayor for 'rebellion'

Posted: 19 Mar 2014 08:45 PM PDT

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan intelligence agents arrested the opposition mayor of San Cristobal on Wednesday for "civil rebellion," accusing him of stoking violence in the city hit harder than anywhere by more than a month of unrest.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who also heads the national intelligence service Sebin, told state TV that Sebin agents detained Daniel Ceballos while acting on an order from a court in western Tachira state.

"This is an act of justice for a mayor who not only failed to meet his obligations under the law, but also facilitated and supported all the irrational violence in this city," he said.

"In the coming hours he will be presented before the corresponding tribunals to begin the judgment process."

A man identifying himself as an aide to the mayor said via his Twitter account, @Daniel_Ceballos, that he was arrested in Caracas. According to a post on his Facebook page earlier, Ceballos was in the capital for a meeting of opposition mayors.

San Cristobal, home to some 250,000 people in Tachira near the Colombian border, has been the focus of the most sustained fights between demonstrators barricading roads, pro-government radicals, and the security forces.

Torres said a member of the National Guard was shot dead in the city on Wednesday during what he called "vandalistic acts" by protesters targeting a national armed forces university.

Earlier, prosecutors said a Caracas municipal worker was killed by multiple gunshots late on Tuesday as he and others dismantled a street barrier set up by opposition demonstrators.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the opposition mayors of four municipalities, including San Cristobal, to remove street barricades rigged up by protesters.

At least 31 people have died since February 12 when three people were shot dead in clashes after an opposition rally in Caracas.


The protesters are demanding socialist President Nicolas Maduro resign, while he says his foes want to create chaos and trigger a coup, like the one 12 years ago that briefly ousted his predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez.

Pro-opposition students said they planned to march in the capital on Thursday to demand Ceballos' release, in what will be the latest of daily rallies by both sides around the politically polarized country.

The move against the San Cristobal mayor comes a day after the ruling Socialist Party-dominated Congress voted to ask the state prosecutor to investigate an opposition deputy for crimes including treason in relation to the protests.

Maria Corina Machado, a 46-year-old engineer, has been one of the most visible leaders of the demonstrations.

The move by "Chavista" legislators, which seeks eventually to strip her of her parliamentary immunity, followed the arrest a month ago of hardline opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Along with Machado, Lopez launched a national movement at the start of the year under the banner "The Exit," meaning an end to 15 years of socialist rule. It has seen peaceful marches as well as melees between hooded demonstrators and riot police.

Lopez handed himself in to face charges of fomenting the unrest. A senior colleague from his Popular Will party is on the run after being accused in connection with the violence.

They have called on supporters to stay in the streets to keep protesting against high inflation, shortages of basic foods, and one of the worst rates of violent crime in the world.

The protesters are far fewer than those who took to the streets in 2002 to topple Chavez, albeit briefly, and opposition leaders are deeply divided over the current confrontations.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Colombian president confirms ouster of Bogota mayor

Posted: 19 Mar 2014 08:01 PM PDT

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The mayor of Colombia's capital city Bogota was ousted from his post on Wednesday, President Juan Manuel Santos said in a controversial decision that could affect May presidential elections and a peace process with left-wing rebels.

Gustavo Petro, 53, a former guerrilla, was dismissed from his post by the inspector general in December last year over mismanagement but stayed pending a run of judicial appeals, the last of which ended on Tuesday and did not reverse the decision.

His dismissal and a 15-year ban from holding public office was viewed as too harsh, even among those who did not support Petro. The case has become a political hot potato amid perceptions the decision may have sought to undermine leftists.

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights called late on Tuesday for the decision by Colombia's highest judicial authority judging cases involving government bodies to suspend its decision and allow Petro to serve the rest of his mandate.

But in a declaration naming Labor Minister Rafael Pardo Rueda interim mayor, Santos said that request was not legally binding, that Petro's appeal process had been exhaustive and his dismissal was now unavoidable.

"I have received official communication from the inspector general in which he solicits the dismissal by decree of the mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro Urrego, and I have to proceed in conformity with the constitution and the laws," Santos said.

Santos said the Council of State, the last entity to hear the judicial appeal, had informed Petro that he still had other mechanisms of judicial defense to which he could turn, without giving further detail.


Petro's dismissal was declared in December by right-wing prosecutor Alejandro Ordonez over the mayor's ill-fated attempt to reclaim management of waste collection from private operators. Poor planning resulted in garbage amassing in the streets before the duties were returned to private contractors.

But trash quickly became a side issue as Colombians questioned whether the harsh sentence, especially the long ban from public office, was really intended to sideline the political left and bar a potential 2018 presidential candidate.

"(Santos' decision) shows that he is unable to bring peace to Colombia," Petro said in a speech from the balcony of the city hall, adding that the political establishment was unable to accept "diversity". He branded the decision "a political, electoral calculation".

Santos initiated peace talks with the main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in November 2012, with the rebels' political participation one of the five points on the agenda on which partial agreement has been reached.

Centre-right Santos will seek a second four-year term at elections on May 25 during which he hopes to complete the peace process aimed at ending a five-decade conflict that has killed around 220,000.

Though few details have been released on how the group would enter the political system, it could dent the guerrilla's trust after witnessing the unilateral removal of a prominent former guerrilla from a position of power.

Surveys show Santos is the clear front-runner in the upcoming election and far ahead of Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the chosen candidate of ex-President Alvaro Uribe. Uribe staunchly opposes peace negotiations and advocates continuing the policy of his 2002-2010 term of defeating the guerrillas militarily.

Whether Santos dismissed or tried to maintain Petro in his post, he was certain to draw the ire of politicians further to the left or right and the case could potentially cost him votes among some left-leaning voters.

(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Bernard Orr and Eric Walsh)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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