Venezuela’s Main Opposition Bloc Agrees on Candidate to Challenge Maduro in Presidential Election

HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa
HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa
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Venezuela’s Main Opposition Bloc Agrees on Candidate to Challenge Maduro in Presidential Election

HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa
HANDOUT - 16 April 2024, Venezuela, Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a virtual meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Photo: Marcelo Garcia/Prensa Miraflores/dpa

Venezuela's main opposition coalition agreed Friday to unite behind former diplomat Edmundo González as its challenger to President Nicolás Maduro in this summer's election, acting one day before the deadline to formalize its candidate.
The decision was reached unanimously by the 10 parties in the Unitary Democratic Platform, Omar Barboza, the coalition's executive secretary, said after a five-hour meeting that included discussions of other possible candidates, The Associated Press said.
The bloc had been allowed to provisionally register González on March 26 after the government came under a wave of criticism when opposition leaders said they were blocked from registering their candidate of choice. Saturday was the deadline to make his candidacy final.
The opposition group needed to replace its first candidate, María Corina Machado, who easily won a primary organized by the bloc in October but was barred by the government from running after the ruling party-controlled State Comptroller's Office disqualified her from holding public office for 15 years.
Maduro’s administration has cracked down on the opposition before the July 28 presidential election despite promises to pave the way to fair elections in exchange for sanctions relief. The Biden administration on Wednesday reimposed crushing oil sanctions, criticizing Maduro's moves.
The governments of Colombia and Brazil also have expressed concern, and Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo accused Maduro’s government of “consolidating an anti-democratic system.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil has called the criticism a “gross interference in matters that only concern Venezuelans.”
Maduro, a self-proclaimed socialist leader. officially launched his candidacy last month for a third term that would last until 2031.
The election is likely to have more than 10 candidates, but except for the main opposition coalition, none are expect to pose a threat to Maduro’s power base.



Stockholm Accuses Iran of Using Criminals in Sweden to Target Israel

A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo
A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo
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Stockholm Accuses Iran of Using Criminals in Sweden to Target Israel

A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo
A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo

Sweden's domestic security agency on Thursday accused Iran of using established criminal networks in Sweden as a proxy to target Israeli or Jewish interests in the Scandinavian country.
The accusations were raised at a news conference by Daniel Stenling, the head of the SAPO agency's counterespionage unit, following a series of events earlier this year.
In late January, the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm was sealed off after what was then described as “a dangerous object” was found on the grounds of the diplomatic mission in an eastern Stockholm neighborhood. Swedish media said the object was a hand grenade.
The embassy was not evacuated and the object was eventually destroyed. No arrests were made and authorities did not say what was found. On May 17, gunshots were heard near the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm and the area was cordoned off. No one was arrested.
According to The Associated Press, Stenling said, without offering specifics or evidence to back up his assertion, that the agency "can establish that criminal networks in Sweden are used as a proxy by Iran.”
“It is very much about planning and attempts to carry out attacks against Israeli and Jewish interests, goals and activities in Sweden," he said and added that the agency sees "connections between criminal individuals in the criminal networks and individuals who are connected to the Iranian security services.”
Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer and Hampus Nygårds, deputy head of the Swedish police's National Operations Department, were also at the online news conference with Stenling.
“We see this connection between the Iranian intelligence services, the security services and precisely criminals in the criminal networks in Sweden," Stenling said. “We see that connection and it also means that we need to work much more internationally to get to the crimes and be able to prevent them.”
Stenling and the others made no mention of the recent incidents connected to the Israel Embassy and stopped short of naming any criminal groups or suspects.
Sweden has grappled with gang violence for years and criminal gangs often recruit teenagers in socially disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods to carry out hits.
By May 15, police have recorded 85 shootings so far this year, including 12 fatal shootings. Last year, 53 people were killed and 109 were wounded in a total of 363 shootings.