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US rallies LatAm on Venezuela after Trump military warning
By Hector Velasco
Bogota (AFP) Aug 14, 2017

Maduro orders Venezuela military drill after Trump threat
Caracas (AFP) Aug 14, 2017 - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday ordered his armed forces to carry out a national exercise next week in reaction to a threat of possible US military action voiced by President Donald Trump.

"I have given the order to the armed forces' joint chiefs of staff to start preparations for a national civil-military exercise for the integrated armed defense of the Venezuelan nation," he told thousands of supporters in a Caracas rally.

The drill was to take place August 26 and 27.

Maduro's government has seized on Trump's warning last Friday that he was looking at a range of scenarios against Venezuela, "including a possible military option if necessary."

The Maduro administration says Trump's move bolsters its oft-repeated claim that Washington has designs to grab control of Venezuela's proven oil reserves, the largest in the world.

Trump's threat, in response to Venezuela's deepening economic crisis and Maduro's moves toward what the US labels a "dictatorship," was rebuffed by all of Latin America -- even countries opposed to Venezuela.

The US Defense Department said Monday it had received no orders from Trump to ready any sort of military action against Venezuela.

US Vice President Mike Pence, who is touring allies in Latin America to marshall joint action against Caracas, said he hoped a "peaceable solution" would be found.

Poland 'centre of gravity' for US army in Europe: commander
Warsaw (AFP) Aug 14 - NATO ally Poland has become key to US operations in Europe as Washington deploys troops across the alliance's eastern flank to deter nearby Russia, a top American general said Monday.

"Poland has become for the United States Army the centre of gravity for everything that we're doing in terms of deterrence," General Ben Hodges, commander of US ground forces in Europe, told reporters in Warsaw.

The US army set up a new European headquarters in Poland in May to command some 6,000 of its troops deployed in NATO and Pentagon operations across the alliance's eastern flank since the beginning of the year.

The move is one of the largest deployments of US forces in Europe since the Cold War and is meant to reassure NATO's easternmost allies spooked by Russia's frequent military exercises near the region and its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

"We have hundreds of American soldiers every day that are training... in different places across Poland because it is such an important location, the geography," Hodges said, calling Poland "a leader inside of the (NATO) alliance."

The US leads a multi-national NATO battle group in Poland. Germany, Britain and Canada command three others in nearby Baltic states Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

"Because of Poland's willingness to allow us to train here, to develop facilities here, we now have an American battalion here," Hodges said of the unprecedented US deployment on Polish soil.

"You heard our president say that just a few weeks ago -- that's America's committment to NATO, or an example of it," Hodges added, referring to US President Donald Trump public endorsement of NATO's one-for-all-and-all-for-one mutual defence pact in a speech in Warsaw in July.

Hodges' remarks come as a high-pitched row between Poland's president and defence minister has hamstrung the nomination of key new generals.

Dozens of generals quit or were ousted amid a series of controversial reforms by Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz after his rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party took power in October 2015.

Experts warned the exodus has left Poland short of experienced commanders as NATO and the US set up operations in the country.

The United States vowed Monday to stop Venezuela from becoming a "failed state," as it rallied Latin American allies after President Donald Trump warned of possible military action.

US Vice President Mike Pence met in a church in Cartagena, Colombia with Venezuelan families who have fled their country's deadly crisis, as he wrapped up the first stop on a Latin American tour.

"We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles, but it's important to note, as the president said, that a failed state in Venezuela threatens the security and prosperity of the hemisphere," Pence told reporters.

He told CNN in an interview that Venezuela risked becoming "a greater problem for narcotics traffic" and "greater migration" -- both of which he said directly threatened the security and economy of the US.

Pence later boarded his plane to fly to Argentina, the second stop on a tour that will also take him to Chile and Panama.

On Sunday, Pence stood by Trump's threat, saying the US president "says what he means and means what he says."

But he expressed hope a "peaceable solution" could be found on Venezuela.

- 'Possible military option' -

Trump on Friday said he was mulling a range of scenarios for crisis-hit Venezuela -- "including a possible military option if necessary."

Caracas condemned the comment. On Monday, Venezuela Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino called it "crazy" and showed America had "dropped its mask" in terms of wanting to attack his country.

The rest of Latin America -- even countries that condemn President Nicolas Maduro's attacks on Venezuela's democratic institutions -- have strongly rejected the threat.

China, which is owed billions in debt by Venezuela, also spoke out against foreign interference in other countries.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had told Pence on arrival "that the possibility of a military intervention shouldn't even be considered."

Many Latin American countries have bitter memories of past US adventures in the region. Those include invasions, gunboat diplomacy and the propping up of military dictators.

Washington has already imposed unilateral sanctions on Maduro and nearly two dozen of his officials.

The sanctions were in response to their establishment of a new loyalist body, an all-powerful Constituent Assembly, that supersedes the legislature controlled by the opposition.

- No orders to Pentagon -

Trump's stated possibility of a US military operation looked likely to shadow Pence at every stop, eclipsing bilateral issues, especially trade, that he was raising along the way.

However the US defense officials at the Pentagon said on Monday they had not received any orders from the White House on a military option against Venezuela.

"I can't speculate what that is because we haven't been asked to provide any options," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said.

Maduro's regime has nevertheless seized on Trump's threat as proof of its claim that the United States wants to topple the current leftist government to get its hands on Venezuela's oil reserves, the largest in the world.

The Venezuelan opposition coalition on Sunday also rejected "the use of force, or the threat of applying such force, by whatever country against Venezuela."

The coalition is seeking to oust Maduro through early elections.

Venezuela's economy is heavily reliant on its oil exports. Shipments to the United States -- its biggest customer -- account for 40 percent of its crude production, but only eight percent of US oil imports.

The US sanctions so far have targeted individuals and not Venezuela's oil industry, which would have consequences for US refineries.

China warns against stoking Korea tensions after Trump salvo
Beijing (AFP) Aug 9, 2017
China responded to President Donald Trump's apocalyptic "fire and fury" threat against North Korea by pointedly warning on Wednesday against any rhetoric that could inflame tensions over Pyongyang's weapons programmes. Calling the situation on the Korean Peninsula "complicated and sensitive", China's foreign ministry issued a statement warning that parties involved in the impasse should avoi ... read more

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