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Guaido Declares ‘Final Phase of Operation Freedom’ for Venezuela

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The leader of Venezuela’s opposition, Juan Guaido, on Tuesday declared “the start of the end of the usurpation,” in a dawn address in which he was flanked by men in military fatigues and armored vehicles in the capital Caracas, CNN reported.

Guaido has led months of protest against the Maduro government, yet Tuesday marked his boldest attempt yet to involve the military in the removal of the Venezuelan president. In the video, broadcast on his social media account, another key opposition figure, Leopoldo Lopez, appeared to be present.

Lopez is currently under house arrest, and it was unclear how he had evaded custody to take part in the video, which Guaido said was filmed in a military airbase, La Carlota.

Guaido has called for nationwide demonstrations on May 1, and said his announcement signaled the start of that protest a day early.

“The people of Venezuela initiated the end of the usurpation. At this moment I am meeting with the main military units of our Armed Forces, beginning the final phase of Operation Freedom.” he tweeted.

Minutes after the video was shared, the Venezuelan government said it would be putting down a small coup attempt by military “traitors” working with the opposition, Fox News informed.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez on Twitter called on Venezuelan citizens to remain on high alert, alongside the “glorious Bolivarian National armed forces, to defeat the coup attempt and preserve the peace.” “We will win,” he wrote in Spanish.

Tear gas was fired at a highway overpass near the Caracas air base where Guaido and several heavily armed soldiers with blue bands wrapped around their forearms had been standing guard. The tear gas appeared to have been fired from inside the Carlota air base.

But more people gathered as they sensed what could be their strongest opportunity yet to overthrow the government.

“It’s now or never,” said one of the young soldiers, his face covered in the blue bandanna preferred by the few dozen soldiers who stood alongside Guaido and Lopez.

In a phone call to state TV, socialist party boss, Diosdado Cabello, downplayed the significance of the rebellion, saying Caracas is in complete calm. He then called on government supporters to amass at the presidential palace to defend Maduro.

Local reports said soldiers still supporting Maduro were bolstering security at the presidential palace of Miraflores.

Guaido, leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, triggering a power struggle with Maduro. He has the support from about 50 countries, including the United States and several European nations, who have disavowed Maduro’s presidency.

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Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access

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Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.

The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.

In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.

Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.

The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.

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HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.

“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”

The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.

There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”

Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”

The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.

Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”

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Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party

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Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.

Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”

A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.

The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.

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