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Venezuela security forces battle anti-Maduro protesters

CARACAS Venezuelan security forces quelled masked protesters with tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray in Caracas on Tuesday after blocking an opposition rally against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The clashes began after authorities closed subway stations, set up checkpoints and cordoned off a square where opponents had planned their latest protest against autocratic government and a crippling economic crisis.

In cat-and-mouse skirmishes on backstreets and highways around the capital, youths built barricades, burnt trash and hurled rocks and bottles at soldiers and police . Various opposition leaders organised roadblocks.

Police used pepper spray on National Assembly head Julio Borges, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and rights activist Lilian Tintori, as they led protesters onto highways and jostled at barricades, witnesses said.

Opposition activists said armed pro-government gangs joined the fray and opened fire. “About 50-100 guys arrived on bike and started to shoot in the air,” protester Bernardo Sanchez told local media, saying a bullet had lodged in his thigh.

In one street, kneeling women sang the national anthem as neighbours banged pots and pans from nearby buildings in a show of anger against a government they blame for a deep recession that has led to shortages of food and basics.

“We’re going to get rid of them but we have to fight,” said Jose Zapata, 57, an electrician, as he marched with a stick in his hand.

Overlooking one wide avenue, some pro-Maduro residents in a state housing project threw trash onto protesters below.

With thousands out on both sides, supporters of the 54-year-old president organised their own rally, in a volatile scenario seen constantly during the 18 years of leftist rule in the South American nation.

“They want an intervention in Venezuela,” said Prisons Ministry worker Juan Aponte, 34, who wore the red colours of the ruling Socialist Party.

Protests also were staged in other cities and more are planned across the country for Thursday.

The government accuses opposition parties of abetting a U.S.-led plot to topple Maduro, who has ruled Venezuela since the 2013 death of Hugo Chavez.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

Tensions have soared in the oil-producing country’s long-running political standoff after the pro-Maduro Supreme Court last week annulled the opposition-led congress’ functions.

Although the court retracted that ruling over the weekend, the National Assembly remains powerless due to previous court judgement.

The renewed instability sent Venezuelan bonds lower, with the benchmark 2027 paper’s price down 4.4 percent.

Foreign pressure on Maduro has risen as opposition protests resumed late last week.

“Here the world can see the dictatorial path Mr . Maduro has chosen,” Capriles said.

Maduro says the U.S . government and other foes are whipping up hysteria against him to lay the ground for a coup.

“From the north (the United States), they give the order to the defeated fascist right of Venezuela to fill the streets with violence and blood,” Maduro said on state TV.

“In Caracas, in Venezuela, peace has triumphed once again.”

Maduro’s administration is particularly furious with Organization of American States head Luis Almagro, who is leading regional condemnation.

The regional bloc on Monday urged Venezuela to restore congress’ authority and guarantee separation of powers, but Venezuela’s representative walked out, as did the envoy from fellow leftist Bolivia, which holds the OAS presidency.

“The OAS has surpassed itself in aggression against Venezuela,” Maduro said late on Monday. “It is a real court of inquisition, carrying out abuses and vulgarities.”

Venezuela’s opposition won a National Assembly majority in late 2015 but the Supreme Court has overturned almost all its measures.

Due to the chaos in Caracas, the legislature postponed until Wednesday a session to censure the “rupture” of Venezuela’s constitution . Legislators also plan this week to start proceedings to remove Supreme Court judges but that would only be a symbolic rebuke since congress has no power to act.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore, Carlos Rawlins, Eyanir Chinea and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Trott, Toni Reinhold)

Security staff banned from wearing Union flag badges

Security guards at the Bristol Royal Infirmary have been banned from wearing the Union Jack on their stab vests . It is understood that the staff had been wearing the badges for the past two months. They are like those sold in aid of Care of Police Survivors1, a charity which helps families of police officers who have died while on duty . They are becoming more common following the death of PC Keith Palmer in the Westminster attack. The 12 members of staff, employed by the NHS, had received an e-mail telling them to no longer wear the flags on their uniforms.

ITV News approached the Trust that runs the BRI and it issued the following statement. We were contacted recently by a member of the public who saw security officers at the Bristol Royal Infirmary wearing union jack flag patches on their uniforms . The member of the public commended the security staff on how well they dealt with a difficult incident and asked about a union jack patch that they had on their uniforms as they had not seen it before on an NHS uniform.

Our Trust policy says that uniforms cannot be altered or personalised and that only professional badge adornments are permitted . Security staff were therefore reminded of this and asked to remove any non-authorised badges or symbols from their uniforms . We also shared with them the compliment from the member of public.

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson

References

  1. ^ Care of Police Survivors (www.ukcops.org)

Security measures increased in Windsor after Westminster attack

Thames Valley Police is increasing security measures in Windsor from this evening, following the recent terror attack in Westminster . Specialist barriers are being put in place around Windsor Castle ahead of the Guard Change which is set to take place on Wednesday . Security measures and activities, including those for pre-planned events in crowded places have been reviewed by the Force

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Hardcastle said: While there is no intelligence to indicate a specific threat to Windsor, recent events in Westminster clearly highlight the need for extra security measures to be introduced . The Force believes that it is proportionate and necessary to put in place extra security measures to further protect and support the public and the Guard Change . This is consistent with security deployments in London . Preventative measures such as these have been put in place across the UK over the past 10 years at various events . The national threat level remains severe, which it has been since 2014, and I would urge the public to be alert to the threat of terror attacks but not alarmed, and to remain vigilant.

The new barriers will support existing road closures and will be used to secure the Guard Change route during the operation . Ch Insp Sarah Grahame, deputy LPA commander for Windsor and Maidenhead, said: I hope that people in Windsor will understand the reasons that these barriers are being introduced, and will see why they are necessary . Windsor is a safe place to live, work and visit, and these extra security measures at the Guard Change will offer further protection for people in the town in light of recent events in Westminster . Acts of terrorism and hate crimes are committed by a small minority of people, but have a big impact on communities, and it is essential that we all continue to work together and share information in order to combat this threat. Cllr Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, says: We support the good work of Thames Valley Police and the Metropolitan Police in their work to make Windsor a safer place for those who live, work and visit the town .

These measures will increase security at the changing of the guard ceremony and the council is offering its help where necessary to ensure that this valued and popular tradition can continue.