Venezuela holds military drills after US threat

Venezuela has kicked off two days of nationwide military drills seen as a deterrent against military intervention by the United States. 

War planes, tanks, and 200,000 troops of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) were deployed along with 700,000 reserves and civil militia members as the exercises formally launched on Saturday.

"The people and the FANB are defending territory and sovereignty," President Nicolas Maduro wrote on Twitter.

"Against the belligerent threats of the United States, all Venezuelans between the ages of 18 and 60 are required to contribute to the integral defence of the nation," said an announcement broadcast on state television.

Venezuela's display of military might comes in response to US President Donald Trump's threat of military action two weeks ago and new financial sanctions announced on Friday.

"A complete menu of training skills was being offered to allow ordinary Venezuelans to be able to resist in case of a US invasion, as well as an internal subversion from the opposition," Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman said, reporting from Venezuela's largest military academy in Caracas.

READ MORE: Venezuela crisis: All the latest updates

Trump warned on August 11 the US was mulling a range of options to solve Venezuela's political crisis, "including a possible military option if necessary".

Top US officials later played down the threat. "No military actions are anticipated in the near future," said National Security Advisor HR McMaster on Friday. 

But tensions surged again when the White House made good on the sanctions threat on Friday, unveiling its first-ever such measures to target Venezuela as a whole, rather than just Maduro and his inner circle.

'Economic war'

The sanctions, which Trump signed by executive order, prohibit American financial institutions from providing new money to Venezuela or the state oil company, PDVSA, and could make it harder for Maduro to raise badly needed cash to prevent a debt default.

Maduro decries US sanctions against Venezuela

They also restrict the Venezuelan oil giant's US subsidiary, Citgo, from sending dividends back to Venezuela and ban trading in two bonds the government recently issued to circumvent its increasing isolation from Western financial markets.

Maduro decried the US measures during a national address on Friday. 

"Nobody can use economic and financial measures to impose their political will over a country," he said. "Economic war, pressures and  blackmail are illegal. They ratify an imperial road of aggression."

Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the armed forces support "all measures being implemented to counter the financial blockade".

In an address at one of the exercises near the capital Caracas, he told assembled troops the drills were "for the defence of the whole country" against "imperial aggression".

READ MORE: Venezuela's worst economic crisis: What went wrong?

Lopez said the exercises would include rifle practice on Saturday and combat manoeuvres on Sunday.

The US embassy in Caracas advised its citizens in the country to stay away from the military exercises, warning of the risk of action by armed civilian loyalists.

Venezuela was gripped by months of anti-government protests over growing anger against Maduro. 

The opposition, who demand new elections, say Maduro is turning the crisis-hit country into a dictatorship.

Maduro says the violence and the economic crisis are a US-backed conspiracy.

Diplomatic tensions increased last month when a legislative superbody called the Constituent Assembly was elected at Maduro's behest. It has the power to legislate, bypassing the opposition-controlled Congress.

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Brazil: Military Occupation of Rio is a Rehearsal, Warns Expert

''The military occupation of Rio de Janeiro ordered by President Michel Temer is just a rehearsal of a practice that could be extended to other Brazilian states,'' warned today political scientist Jorge Rubem Folena de Oliveira.

De Oliveira said that once again, as in 1964, the military could be used to establish a state of emergency against the Brazilian people and also that Temer and his allies will not easily surrender the power, which was taken through a coup against the Brazilian democracy.

'Taking into account the political manipulation that seeks to strengthen the state of emergency through the use of military forces, the elections in 2018 might remain uncertain,' said de Oliveira.

De Oliveira also denounced that the decree issued by Temer authorizing the deployment of 10,000 soldiers in Rio de Janeiro is against the Constitution and the law to use the Armed Forces.

'To be authorized to implement the Guarantee of Law and Order (GLO), state Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao had to declare formally, by decree, that the Rio de Janeiro security forces were unable to handle the increased violence there, which did not happen,' he said.

'In the case of Rio de Janeiro, as in other Brazilian states, the increased urban violence is linked to the increased rates of poverty and the cut of public funds fostered by Temer's mismanagement in 2016,' he said.

'The causes of the increased violence are political, economic and social, and the military will not be able to eliminate them,' he said.

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Venezuela to Send Troops to Train at Bolivia’s ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Military Academy

The school is seen as the anti-School of the Americas, which the U.S. used to train Latin American soldiers in torture and counterinsurgency methods.

Venezuela will send troops to train at Bolivia’s "anti-imperialist" military academy, the country's defense minister announced Monday.

RELATED: Bolivia Opens New 'Anti-Imperialist' Military Academy

"I have been instructed by Mr. Pdte @ NicolasMaduro to send FANB military professionals to train in Bolivia's Anti-imperialist School," Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez announced on his Twitter account.

The announcement came shortly after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met briefly with Bolivian President Evo Morales at the airport in Maiquetía, Venezuela, with Morales en route to New York for the U.N. Oceans summit.

Morales expressed his solidarity with Maduro, as Venezuela continues to suffer from political turmoil and sometimes violent anti-government protests that have resulted in the deaths of at least 73 people since April.

The Juan José Torres Anti-Imperialist School was created in November 2015, but officially opened in August of last year. Soldiers from Venezuela’s National Bolivarian Armed Forces, known by its Spanish acronym FANB, will attend the school that seeks to change the "repressive and imperialist" doctrines of military entities.

“We want to build anti-colonial and anti-capitalist thinking with this school that binds the armed forces to social movements and counteracts the influence of the School of the Americas that always saw the indigenous as internal enemies,” said Morales at the opening of the school.

The School of the Americas, later renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, was started during the Cold War to provide "anti-communist counterinsurgency training" to soldiers from U.S.-allied right-wing nations. Its graduates have gone on to be dictators, war criminals and death squad members, with notorious alumni including former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, and former Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez. In 1996 the New York Times, in an editorial titled the "School of Dictators," revealed that the school taught torture.

"A training manual recently released by the Pentagon recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned," the newspaper reported.

RELATED: Bolivia to Prioritize Occupation of Palestine During UN Security Council Presidency

The "anti-imperialist" school was built as a political and ethical commitment to the country and teaches history, geopolitics and military strategy. It also prepares pupils in the specialties of piloting, air defense and operational support.

Last week, Morales delivered a new Jatun Puma helicopter and two Cessna aircrafts to the military school and announced plans for more training aircraft to train cadets and officers of the Bolivian Air Force.

“All this is possible because we have changed the economic model of our country, thanks to the struggle of social movements,” Morales said.

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280 Cases of Ultra-Right Extremists Investigated in the German Army

Berlin, May 3 (Prensa Latina) Military intelligence services are currently investigating 280 cases of possible right-wing extremists in the ranks of the German army, the Defense Ministry informed today.

This political inclination was the main reason for the expulsion of 18 soldiers between 2012 and 2016, said the aforementioned ministry in reference to the phenomenon extended to the armed forces of the central European country.

These alarming figures come to light in the wake of the arrest of a lieutenant (identified as Franco A.) for identifying himself as a Syrian asylum seeker to - allegedly - commit a xenophobic attack, the source adds.

Due to the alarming incident, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen yesterday her visit to the United States to visit the unit where the soldier was, in a French town near the border with Germany.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Steffen Seibert told a news conference that Von der Leyen has 'full support' from Chancellor Angela Merkel to settle the matter.

Despite her quick response, the minister is currently criticized in the military sector for questioning the firmness of the military to deal with issues as delicate as that of Franco A. and its subsequent outcome, which could hinder the course of the investigation.

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China, Cuba pledge further development of military-to-military relations

Chinese Defense Minister and State Councilor Chang Wanquan on Wednesday held talks with visiting Cuban Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Leopoldo Cintra Frias.

Chang said China is willing to work with Cuba to implement important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries and make positive contributions to the development of military-to-military relations.

As an important part of China-Cuba ties, military-to-military relations are characterized by a solid foundation, strong vitality and broad development prospects, Chang said.

Cintra said Cuba is willing to continue enhancing pragmatic exchanges and cooperation with China in all fields and at all levels, and elevate military-to-military relations to a higher level.

Cuba is grateful to China for its support and help over the years, according to Cintra.

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USA Demands NATO Members to Increase Military Spending

The United States demanded today that the other member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) increase military expenditures and contributions to the alliance before the end of 2017.

At a press conference, US Vice President Mike Pence indicated that the White House offers until the end of the year for Canada and European allies to make 'real progress' in their investments in defense and the distribution of financial burdens in the group.

The statement came after a meeting here with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who agreed with the positions of the US executive.

According to Pence, the United States wants the allies to 'keep their promise and do more for our common defense,' and asserted that President Donald Trump 'expects real progress by the end of 2017.'

Currently, the northern power government covers more than 70 percent of the cost of NATO, and 'we are committed to our part, but the time has come for the allies to take a step forward,' the representative of the White House said.

Many allies, some of the largest, still fail to meet the target of rising their spending on defense to two percent of Gross Domestic Product in a decade as agreed in 2014 during a NATO summit in Wales, he said.

'Our country has made continuous investments in European security and we see that the European countries are left behind,' he stressed.

According to Pence, Stoltenberg's 'leadership' in NATO places the increase in defense spending as 'first priority', which satisfies his country.

'Europeans cannot ask for more from the United States if they do not commit more,' Stoltenberg said.

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Russia Attacks Syrian Terrorists with Strategic Bombers

Moscow, Jan 23 (Prensa Latina) Russia attacked with six TU-22M3 strategic bombers camps, weapons and ammunition stores, as well as troops from the Islamic State (EI) terrorist movement in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor.

Russian control mechanisms confirmed the destruction of all programmed targets after bombers flew over Iraq and Iranian airspace to carry out their mission, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

In the operation, SU-30MS and SU-35S fighters sheltered the bombers, after leaving Jmeimim air base in the Syrian province of Latakia, the official statement said.

All the air ships returned from the mission without complications, emphasizes the Ministry of Defense, which issued a similar part last Saturday.

The city of Deir ez-Zor has been besieged for several weeks by the EI, which took peripheral areas through the mass use of car bombs and suicide bombers, media reports say.

The attack of the EI against the locality intensified as the approaching start of this day in Astana, the Kazakh capital, of the first direct talks between heads of armed groups and representatives of the Syrian government.

Contrary to many in the West, who wagered on the continuity of the conflict in an attempt to remove President Bashar Al Assad from power, the Astana meeting brought together leaders of 13 armed opposition groups.

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More than 30 Syrian Military Personnel Killed near Damascus

Damascus, Jan 18 (Prensa Latina) More than 30 Syrian military personnel were killed this morning following a bomb attack on the headquarters of the Army Transportation Administration in the town of Harasta, four kilometers east of Damascus, official sources confirmed.

According to early reports, the explosive charge of almost two tons was introduced through a tunnel leading to the four-story building, which was completely destroyed.

Preliminary reports indicated that among the 33 victims is General Bilal Bilal and three other senior officers.

The sources added that after the confusion and chaos reigning, armed elements attacked the nearby capital neighborhood of Jobar, but were rejected.

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