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Trump threatens ‘military option’ in Venezuela

A riot security force member fires his weapon
Image: The situation in Venezuela has deteriorated in the past few months

US President Donald Trump has taken a break from his war of words with North Korea to threaten yet another country with the “military option”.

Venezuela has become more unstable since its president Nicolas Maduro won a controversial election giving him new constitutional powers to bring forth what Washington describes as his “dictatorship”.

More than 120 people have been killed and thousands of people, including opposition activists, have been arrested during the past four months.

Mr Trump described the situation in Venezuela as a “very dangerous mess”.

He said: “We have troops all over the world in places that are very far away.

“Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they’re dying.

“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro
Image: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s election win was controversial

When asked if the US would lead any operation in Venezuela, Mr Trump said: “We don’t talk about it but a military operation – a military option – is certainly something that we could pursue.”

He does not appear to have been asked which other countries he thought would support the US in such an operation.

Protesters set a barricade on fire in Valencia, Venezuela's third-biggest city
Image: Protesters set a barricade on fire in Valencia, Venezuela’s third-biggest city

Venezuela’s defence minister Vladimir Padrino told state television on Friday that Mr Trump’s threat was “an act of craziness, an act of supreme extremism.”

“With this extremist elite that’s in charge in the US, who knows what will happen to the world?”

The country’s communications minister Ernesto Villegas called the threat “an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty”.

Diplomacy between the two got off to a shaky start, with the White House saying that, although Mr Maduro had requested a phone conversation with Mr Trump, the latter would gladly speak with him “when democracy is restored”.

Donald Trump
Image: Donald Trump has decided Venezuela may also feel the military wrath of the US

A spokesman for the US Department of Defense, Eric Pahon, would not comment on Mr Trump’s threat of military action but did say that, “as of right now, the Pentagon has received no orders” regarding Venezuela.

Even if it had, some among Venezuela’s leadership may not be surprised.

Some officials there have long accused the US of planning an invasion and earlier this year, a former military general told Reuters news agency that anti-aircraft missiles were on the country’s coast – just in case.

Venezuela’s 31 million citizens were once among the region’s wealthiest but under Mr Maduro they have suffered from food shortages and hyperinflation.

But, while Venezuela’s economy may be close to basket case status, documents viewed by Reuters show that the country has the largest known arsenal of weapons in Latin America.

Among its collection are 5,000 Russian-made surface to air weapons.

Police motorbikes burn after a device exploded as they drove past
Image: Police motorbikes burn after a device exploded as they drove past

Mr Maduro and some of his comrades were sanctioned by the US at the end of July and he responded by saying the US was “making a fool of itself in front of the world”.

But Venezuela is a major OPEC member and supplies the US with around 740,000 barrels per day – something the US did not slap sanctions on.

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    Far-right party to enter Austrian government

    Heinz-Christian Strache
    Image: The FPO’s Heinz-Christian Strache is tipped to be deputy chancellor

    Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government.

    The head of the conservative People’s Party (OVP), Sebastian Kurz, has struck a coalition deal with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO).

    The FPO will take charge of the foreign, interior and defence ministries, among others, while its leader, 48-year-old Heinz-Christian Strache, will be deputy chancellor.

    Mr Kurz, 31, will be the youngest leader in Europe. His OVP will run ministries including finance and justice.

    When the OVP won Austria’s election on 15 October it did so with a hard line on immigration – a policy which often overlapped with that of the FPO.

    The FPO was third, taking 26% of the vote.

    “Nobody has anything to fear,” said the FPO’s secretary general and Austria’s next interior minister, Herbert Kickl.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Sebastian Kurz says he wants to increase security and combat illegal immigraton

    Mr Kurz held a joint news conference with Mr Strache and told reporters: “Our aims are quite clear.

    “We want to ease the tax burden for people, we want to strengthen our economy, which will bolster our social system.”

    Mr Kurz, known as ‘wunderwuzzi’ or ‘whizz-kid’, added: “And first and foremost we want to increase security in our country, including by combating illegal immigration.”

    While Mr Kurz has said his administration will be pro-European, both he and Mr Strache have expressed doubts about further social integration.

    Sebastian Kurz
    Image: Mr Kurz, 31, is Europe’s youngest leader

    The two men presented their agreement to Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader who narrowly beat the FPO in a presidential vote in 2015.

    Mr Van der Bellen, who has the right to reject ministers, has said a new government could be sworn in early next week if everything went to plan.

    Following their meeting, Mr Van der Bellen said they had agreed it was in Austria’s “national interest” to remain at the “centre of a strong European Union”.

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    The FPO’s success mirrors that of similar parties across Europe. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is now the second-largest in the Netherlands, the Front National in France was involved in a run-off for the presidency in May and representatives from Germany’s AfD have entered the Bundestag.

    When the FPO was last in government, under the late Joerg Haider, other EU countries imposed sanctions on Vienna in protest.

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