Burn victim from Venezuela protest dies

A burn victim has died of injuries sustained in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro, becoming the 65th fatality in more than two months of anti-government demonstrations, a prosecutor said Sunday.

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Orlando Figuera, 22, died of injuries he sustained May 20, the prosecutor’s office said on Twitter. The protests have been raging almost daily since April 1.

“He was the victim of an attack by fascists…a hate crime,” President Maduro said on his weekly TV show, blaming national assembly speaker Julio Borges, one of the leaders of the protests.

Opposition leader Henrique Carpiles said all Venezuelans wanted justice for “Orlando and all the dead and wounded. The main guilty party: Nicholas Maduro.” 

Protests were prompted by the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve parliament and transfer all legislative powers to itself, leaving the two remaining branches of the Venezuelan government in the control of President Maduro’s United Socialist Party.

The decision was reversed three days later but protests have continued, the country in the middle of a severe food shortage and economic crisis. According to a study by a group of universities, almost a third of the population eat two meals a day or fewer.

Huge protest in Caracas, Venezuela

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Protesters blame President Maduro for the country’s economic collapse as he has aligned it ever more closely with the communist-led Cuban model. The President is due to serve until January 2019.

President Maduro wants to hold elections for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, and on Sunday he proposed July 30 as the date for voting. The proposed date must be approved by the Supreme Electoral Council.

Critics say he will stack such a body with his allies as part of ploy to cling to power.

Cuba is Caracas’ closest ally. Venezuela, used to spending its huge oil wealth freely, has seen its revenues shrink due to sharply lower crude prices.

However, President Maduro says poverty in 2016 fell from 19.7 per cent of the population to 18.3 per cent. Extreme poverty has fallen from 4.9 to 4.4 per cent.

Elected in 2013, President Maduro is resisting opposition calls for an early election to remove him. He says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

The protests are believed to be the biggest in Venezuela in over a decade.

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Company profits balloon as wages stay weak

New figures highlight why people might be a bit sceptical about the theory of “trickle-down economics”.

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Monday’s economic data show that while company profits have ballooned, people’s wages are going backwards.

Company profits grew by six per cent in the first three months of the year, building on the 20.1 per cent jump in the December quarter, to be a hefty 39.7 per cent higher over the year.

In contrast, wages grew by a slim 0.3 per cent in March quarter to be just 0.9 per cent up on the year, less than half the rate of inflation at 2.1 per cent.

Little wonder voters have become disillusioned with their politicians, and feel they are missing out from Australia’s economic expansion over the past quarter of a century.

Monday’s business indicators have been compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and feed into Wednesday’s national accounts, which are expected to show the economy grew by a modest 0.3 per cent in the March quarter.

This would be a marked slowdown from the 1.1 per cent rise in the final three months of last year, dragging down the annual rate to 1.7 per cent from 2.4 per cent in December.

However, economists expect the company profits result and growing business inventories will lessen the risk of a negative growth result, which was seen as a real threat following last week’s disappointing housing construction and investment numbers, and the subdued retail data for the quarter.

“While the GDP number now looks likely to be considerably better than early forecasts, the persistent weakness in wages and the ongoing lack of inflationary pressure is likely to continue to worry the (Reserve Bank),” ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett said.

Economists will finalise their growth forecasts after the release of international trade and government spending figures on Tuesday.

The central bank will also hold its monthly board meeting on Tuesday.

Economists expect the Reserve Bank to leave the cash rate at a record low 1.5 per cent – where it has stood since August.

JP Morgan chief economist Sally Auld says despite increasingly bearish commentary on the economy in the media, she does not expect much change in governor Philip Lowe’s post-meeting statement.

“In our view, it will take a little longer for the RBA to reappraise their outlook, and for now, we expect the Bank will only acknowledge the ongoing correction in commodity prices, and perhaps pre-emptively downplay a weak (March quarter) GDP result,” she said.

Londoners wake up to beefed up security

Londoners are waking up to beefed up security and transport delays after terror struck the capital when a van veered into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men went on a stabbing rampage killing seven and injuring 48 others, with 21 of them remaining critical.

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The attack on a balmy Saturday night in the popular Borough Market was the second in two weeks for the UK, after the Manchester Arena concert suicide bombing on May 22, and the third in three months.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday and police raids in London apartment blocks have resulted in 12 arrests.

“They went ‘This is for Allah,’ and they had a woman on the floor. They were stabbing her,” one witness Gerard Vowls said.

Florin Morariu, a Romanian chef who works in the Bread Ahead bakery, said he saw people running and some fainting. Then two people approached another person and “began to stick the knife in … and then I froze and I didn’t know what to do.”

He said he managed to get near one attacker and “hit him around the head” with a bread basket.

“There was a car with a loudspeaker saying ‘go, go’ and they (police) threw a grenade. … and then I ran,” he said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says Britain must now toughen up on stamping out Islamist extremism and has proposed regulating cyberspace, adding that Britain has been far too tolerant of extremism.

“It is time to say, enough is enough,” May said.

With the UK national elections due on June 8, the country’s major political parties temporarily suspended campaigning but May says the vote will take place as scheduled because “violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process.”

Four Australians were injured in the attack, including 34-year-old Brisbane woman Candice Hedge, who is recovering in hospital after her throat was slashed and Darwin electrician Andrew Morrison, who also had his throat slashed and is now on his way back to Australia. Two others are believed injured, Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull said.

Canadian woman Christine Archibald is also among the dead, with her fiance’s family issuing a statement that she died in her fiance’s arms after being hit on London Bridge. They paid tribute to her saying she had worked as a volunteer in homeless shelters before leaving for Europe. A French national has also been confirmed dead.

London police said officers killed the attackers within eight minutes of arriving at the scene. Eight officers fired some 50 rounds, said Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the force’s head of counterterrorism.

A public vigil will be held for the seven people who died at 6pm (local time) on Monday at Potters Fields Park, an open space which surrounds City Hall on the River Thames near Tower Bridge.

The mayor’s office says the gathering is an opportunity for Londoners and visitors “to come together in solidarity to remember those who have lost their lives in Saturday’s attack, to express sympathy with their families and loved ones and to show the world that we stand united in the face of those who seek to harm us and our way of life.”

Participants also will be invited to place flowers by the flagpoles outside City Hall.

London police say cordons will remain in place around London Bridge and the Borough Market area well into Monday as officers carry out further investigations, while train services will also be disrupted.

Holmes can’t see himself in Maroon yet

Valentine Holmes admits he was “a bit shocked’ not to be picked in Queensland’s series-opening State of Origin side last month.

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But it doesn’t mean the Cronulla fullback believes he could have made the difference in their 28-4 loss to NSW last Wednesday, or that he’ll get a chance to make his mark in the second clash at ANZ Stadium.

Instead, he believes that honour will go to the man he is marking up against in Thursday’s grand final rematch with Melbourne: Billy Slater.

Maroons coach Kevin Walters admitted on Monday that Slater was back in the frame for selection, which would see Darius Boyd put back on the wing at the likely expense of Justin O’Neill in the centres.

Holmes said he was far more surprised by Slater’s omission than his own.

“I thought Billy Slater probably would have got on,” Holmes said.

“If I was in his shoes I would be a bit upset and a bit cut.

“He’s done very well for the Queensland jersey and he’s done awesome for Melbourne since he came back from injury.

“I’m sure he will be in the running for the next game … I’m sure he will be there.”

Thursday’s clash at Cronulla has been billed as a showdown between the two fullbacks as they bid to make their way into Queensland’s side.

There is, in fact, room for both of them if Dane Gagai or Corey Oates is cut, with the former a chance to move to the centres in place of the out-of-form O’Neill.

But Holmes doesn’t believe that even a game-breaking performance would get him selected in the Maroons squad.

“I honestly don’t think this game will make a decision on his selections,” he said.

“Corey Oates and Dane Gagai played very strong and I thought they were probably the best players in the team there.”

Holmes was the only Queensland member of Australia’s Anzac Test squad not to be picked for the Maroons.

However, the 21-year-old – who was banned from Origin last year for breaking a camp curfew – understood why Maroons selectors stayed loyal.

“I was obviously a bit shocked, but not disappointed,” he said.

“I know they did the job last year and they did it well and they won. I knew they wouldn’t change the team too much.”

Crows can’t hide from AFL critics: Walker

Defiant Adelaide captain Taylor Walker doesn’t care how hard critics come at his AFL side.

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But Walker says the Crows won’t be sheltered from the harsh fallout from their deflating loss to Geelong last Friday night.

“We have got to own it. There’s no hiding away,” Walker told reporters on Monday.

The Crows lost top spot on the ladder, and their premiership credentials took a hit, with their 22-point defeat in Geelong.

Walker said he was unfazed by widespread criticism of his side’s lacklustre performance.

“It doesn’t bother me how hard people come (at us),” he said.

“… People get paid for their opinion and they can have their opinion. But to me, it doesn’t bother me.

“You would think we’re probably bottom of the ladder at the moment, the way the talk is.

“But we’re eight (wins) and three (losses) and we’re playing some okay footy.

“We had a bit of a hiccup on the weekend and I’m super-confident that the resilience in this group, we’ll be able to get through it.”

But Walker said a theme had emerged in Adelaide’s three defeats – an inability to rise to the challenge of opponents.

“This competition is so ruthless now that you have to be unconditional in your effort and intent to win the footy and win your fair share,” he said.

“And at this stage, we’re not at the level.

“And it’s when we get challenged, we need to be able to bounce back and puff the chest out and put it back in the opposition’s face and win our fair share and play it on our terms.

“The most disappointing thing is that we have been able to play our way, bring it into a contest, but the three games that we have lost we haven’t been able to match it.

“I know that we can do it. It’s just disappointing that we can’t do it when we’re challenged at the moment.”