Venezuela says Trump’s threat of military intervention is ‘craziness’

US President Donald Trump on Friday threatened military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation of Washington’s response to Venezuela’s political crisis that Caracas disparaged as “craziness.

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Venezuela has appeared to slide toward a more volatile stage of unrest in recent days, with anti-government forces looting weapons from a military base after a new legislative body usurped the authority of the opposition-controlled congress.

“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump told reporters in an impromptu question and answer session.

The comments appeared to shock Caracas, with Venezuela’s Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino calling the threat “an act of craziness.”

The White House said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro requested a phone call with Trump on Friday, which the White House appeared to spurn, saying in a statement that Trump would gladly speak to Venezuela’s leader when democracy was restored in that country.

0:00 Venezuela using ‘excessive force’ Share Venezuela using ‘excessive force’

Venezuelan authorities have long said US officials were planning an invasion. A former military general told Reuters earlier this year that some anti-aircraft missiles had been placed along the country’s coast for precisely that eventuality.

In Washington, the Pentagon said the US military was ready to support efforts to protect US citizens and America’s national interests, but that insinuations by Caracas of a planned US invasion were “baseless.”

Trump’s suggestion of possible military action came in a week when he has repeatedly threatened a military response if North Korea threatens the United States or its allies.

Asked if US forces would lead an operation in Venezuela, Trump declined to provide details. “We don’t talk about it but a military operation – a military option – is certainly something that we could pursue,” he said.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticised Trump’s new stance.

“Congress obviously isn’t authorising war in Venezuela,” he said in a statement. “Nicolas Maduro is a horrible human being, but Congress doesn’t vote to spill Nebraskans’ blood based on who the Executive lashes out at today.”

0:00 Pro-government Venezuelans march around capital Share Pro-government Venezuelans march around capital

The president’s comments conjured up memories of gunboat diplomacy in Latin America during the 20th century, when the United States regarded its “backyard” neighbours to the south as underlings who it could easily intimidate through conspicuous displays of military power.

Trump’s more aggressive discourse could be an asset to Maduro by boosting his credibility as a national defender.

“Maduro must be thrilled right now,” said Mark Feierstein, who was a senior aide on Venezuela matters to former US president Barack Obama. “It’s hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.”

The United States sanctioned Maduro and other Venezuelan officials in July after Maduro established a constituent assembly run by his Socialist Party loyalists and cracked down on opposition figures. The assembly’s election drew international condemnation and critics have said it removed any remaining checks on Maduro’s power.

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Trump: North Korea will ‘truly regret’ Guam military action

President Donald Trump has warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un not to take any action against the US, its territories including Guam or its allies, warning he would regret such a move – and “regret it fast.

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Trump said Washington was looking “very carefully” at its military options, and that he hoped Kim had taken his words to heart in recent days.

It comes after Trump said America’s military was “locked and loaded”.

North Korea has said it is readying plans to launch missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam.

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“I hope that they are going to fully understand the gravity of what I said, and what I said is what I mean,” Trump told reporters. 

“If he does anything with respect to Guam or anyplace else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”

Trump earlier tweeted: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

The US president’s Twitter missive ratcheted up his already bellicose rhetoric with Kim over North Korea’s weapons program, as Beijing appealed to the two leaders to dampen their fiery exchange.

0:00 Australia embroiled in North Korea and US tensions Share Australia embroiled in North Korea and US tensions

A day prior Trump had hardened his warning that Pyongyang would face “fire and fury” if it kept threatening the United States, saying maybe his tough talk “wasn’t tough enough.”

Trump also warned North Korea it should be “very, very nervous” of the consequences if it even thinks of attacking US soil, after Pyongyang said it was readying plans to launch missiles towards the Pacific territory of Guam.

Pyongyang said the scheme to target the island, a key US military outpost in the western Pacific, was intended to “signal a crucial warning” as “only absolute force” would have an effect on a US leader “bereft of reason.”

Beijing on Friday pleaded with the US and North Korea for restraint, urging the two parties “to be cautious with their words and actions.”

China has repeatedly urged a resumption of long-dormant six-party talks to peacefully resolve the crisis, but its position has been overshadowed by the emerging brinkmanship between Trump and Kim.

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Trump says US is ‘locked and loaded’

President Donald Trump issued a new threat to North Korea on Friday, saying the US military was “locked and loaded” as Pyongyang accused him of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war and world powers expressed alarm.

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The Pentagon said the United States and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise in 10 days, an action sure to further antagonise North Korea.

China, Russia and Germany voiced dismay at the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington. Trump, who has pressed China to help rein in its ally North Korea, said he would speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday night.

Trump, vacationing at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, again referred to North Korea’s leader in his latest bellicose remarks. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” he wrote on Twitter. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

The term “locked and loaded,” popularised in the 1949 war film “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring American actor John Wayne, refers to preparations for shooting a gun.

Asked later by reporters to explain the remark, Trump said: “Those words are very, very easy to understand.”

Again referring to Kim, Trump added, “If he utters one threat … or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”

In remarks to reporters after a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Trump said the situation with North Korea was “very dangerous and it will not continue.”

“We will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could also have a bad solution,” he said.

Despite the tough rhetoric, Trump insisted that “nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump.”

Trump said he thought US allies South Korea and Japan were “very happy” with how he was handling the confrontation.

The president, a wealthy businessman and former reality television personality, sent his tweet after North Korean state news agency, KCNA, said in a statement that “Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war.”

Guam, the Pacific island that is a US territory, posted emergency guidelines on Friday to help residents prepare for any potential nuclear attack after a threat from North Korea to fire missiles in its vicinity.

Guam is home to a US air base, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 US military personnel. KCNA said on Thursday the North Korean army would complete plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land in the sea 30-40 km from Guam.

Trump called the governor of Guam, Eddie Baza Calvo. “We are with you a thousand per cent. You are safe,” Trump told Calvo, who posted a video of him speaking with the president on Facebook.

Federer cruises into Montreal semi-finals

Roger Federer has reached the Rogers Cup semi-finals after coming to the net early and often in a straight-sets victory over Roberto Bautista Agut on a windy day in Montreal.

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World No.3 Federer, who faces Dutchman Robin Haase in the last four, was never seriously pushed in the 6-4 6-4 win against his Spanish opponent.

In the other half of the draw, 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov has fought back from a set down to overcome Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 2-6 6-3 6-4 and become the youngest ever player to reach a Masters 1000 semi-final.

The local favourite will play fourth-seeded German Alexander Zverev after the 20-year-old accounted for South African veteran Kevin Anderson 7-5 6-4.

For Federer, it was plain sailing against Bautista Agut, who is winless in seven matches against the Swiss maestro.

“I think it pays off playing aggressive here in Montreal,” Federer said.

“Plus I feel comfortable at the net so why not spend some time up there instead of slugging it out from the baseline?”

Federer opened the second set with a break and cruised through the rest of the match, which lasted just over an hour.

With world No.2 Rafael Nadal eliminated on Thursday by Shapovalov and world No.1 Andy Murray sidelined by a rib injury, Federer has an opportunity to regain the top spot.

He would need to win the Rogers Cup and have an equal or better finish than Nadal at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati next week to become the world No.1 on August 21.

“Now that Rafa is out I know I can make big strides, especially if I was to go further than the semis here,” Federer said.

“But it’s all connected to great play.”

Federer, who leads the ATP this season with five titles – including two grand slams – improved his 2017 record to 34-2 as he bids for a 94th career trophy.

Earlier on Friday, unseeded Haase recovered from going a set down to beat Argentine Diego Schwartzman 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Saturday’s meeting with Federer will be the Dutchman’s first Masters 1000 semi-final of his career.

“I’m looking forward to a tough match because he can serve very well, and he mixes up his tactics a lot,” Federer said.

Swepson hopeful of Bangladesh Test call-up

Uncapped legspinner Mitchell Swepson admits he’s probably at the back of the selection queue for Australia’s Test tour of Bangladesh.

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But the young Queenslander, whose aggressive style has earned him the vocal endorsement of spin great Shane Warne, is doing everything possible to press his case for a subcontinent call-up.

“I’m hopeful as always,” Swepson said at the national team’s pre-tour training camp in Darwin on Saturday.

“I was added late, so you’d probably think that the other two blokes are ahead of me at the moment.

“But anything can happen.

“I’ve just got to prepare to play and if it doesn’t happen, then so be it.

“I’ll just take the experience as it comes and I’m looking forward to it.”

The 23-year-old Swepson was added last week to Australia’s 14-man squad for the two-Test series, just days after the long-running pay dispute between players and administrators was resolved.

He joins first-choice tweaker Nathan Lyon and left-arm spinner Ashton Agar, who will compete with Swepson for the opportunity to replace dumped veteran Steve O’Keefe.

Agar’s superior economy and proven ability with the bat will likely hold him in good stead when selectors decide who should partner Lyon.

But Swepson’s ability to produce genuine turn has earned plenty of fans, most notably Warne who urged selectors to fast-track his debut during the summer home series against Pakistan.

Both Swepson and Agar missed the opportunity to press their case for selection last month when the Australia A tour of South Africa was boycotted as a result of the pay dispute.

The duo were part of the squad for Australia’s tour of India in March, and Swepson said he had learned plenty despite not being selected to play.

“I picked up a few things in India just being around the squad, and being able to be at Test matches and watch how the blokes go about it,” he said.

“The last six months have been big for me and I’ve worked hard on my bowling.

“Coming back this pre-season, I was really happy with where my bowling was at and I think that was on the back of being on that Indian tour.”

The Australians are scheduled to depart for Dhaka on August 18, with the first Test to commence on August 27.

Wozniacki upsets Pliskova in WTA tennis

Caroline Wozniacki has defeated world No.

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1 Karolina Pliskova in a marathon Rogers Cup quarter-final match in Toronto, marred by four rain delays on Friday.

The 7-5 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 win arrived after the delays, which all came during the first set, appeared to boost the sixth-seeded Dane.

Trailing 3-0 when the match was interrupted, Wozniacki appeared relaxed during the breaks.

They gave her time to consult with her father and longtime coach Piotr Wozniacki, before she won five straight games and ultimately took the first set.

“Almost every tournament I’ve played this year there has been a rain delay so at this point I just have to laugh because I feel like it is following me,” she said during a courtside interview after the 3 hour 26 minute match.

“Every time this year when it has been raining I’ve had a great tournament, so I thought this must be luck.”

The delays and Wozniacki’s solid all-around game appeared to throw off the big-serving Pliskova, who was playing in her first tournament since becoming the top ranked player.

The victory marks Wozniacki’s first career win against a world No.1 and gives the 27-year-old a 6-2 advantage in head-to-head matches with Pliskova.

Wozniacki will face unseeded American Sloane Stephens in the semi-finals after she overwhelmed Czech Lucie Safarova 6-2 1-6 7-5.

The remaining two quarter-finals will be decided on Saturday.

Fourth-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza is one set up against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, winning the opener 6-4 before the day’s play was ended by rain.

Simona Halep was yet to start her match against Caroline Garcia.

Saints aim to keep AFL fate in their hands

St Kilda’s AFL finals ambitions are at the tipping point.

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If they beat Melbourne in Sunday’s MCG clash, the Saints stay in control of their destiny and remain on track for a return to September.

Should they lose, they have to start relying on what happens to teams above them on the ladder.

The Saints are 11th and the Demons are one spot above them on 10 wins apiece.

Eighth-placed Essendon are ahead of them on percentage with three rounds left.

After Melbourne the Saints play North Melbourne and Richmond.

“What tomorrow is, certainly for us given our percentage… (the game) still keeps it in our control,” St Kilda coach Alan Richardson said.

“You win 13 games, you’re very, very, unlikely to miss.

“If you lose tomorrow, then it’s very much up to what other teams do … (we will) need a bit of luck.

“It’s good to have our destiny in our control.”

Melbourne, like the Saints, have won only one of their past four games.

The Demons dropped four players, led by Jack Watts, and coach Simon Goodwin spoke of the need for more ferocity in their game.

The hotter it is, the better, for the Saints, who are coming off a tight win over West Coast.

“We couldn’t have come off a better game from that perspective; we ended up winning the contest by 30-odd,” Richardson said.

“That’s when we’re playing our best footy, (when) we’re strong in that space, so it will be a really fierce contest.”

Tall utility Sam Gilbert will return from a broken finger but veteran Nick Riewoldt was ruled out because of concussion.

Richardson said Riewoldt was close to being available and did not take well to the call by the club medical staff.

“He certainly challenges the doctors and that’s an understatement. Tthey’ve asked for mouthguards and head gear after the way he reacted to their call,” Richardson said.

“That’s been his greatest strength … he’s a driven, ambitious, competitive person.”

Hodge return a welcome AFL boost for Hawks

To farewell loyal fans is not the only reason Hawthorn will welcome suspended ace Luke Hodge back for Sunday’s AFL game against North Melbourne in Launceston.

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Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson said the retiring former skipper is critical to organise an inexperienced defence that was exposed by Richmond’s relentless pressure last round.

“We missed him last week” Clarkson said.

“We’ve got a pretty young defence and they’ve acquitted themselves pretty well, but the wise, old counsel of Hodgy has assisted them enormously.

“He has had a rest, so, hopefully, he’s jumping out of his skin to play again.

“It (Tasmania) has been a home away from home for us for a long period of time, and he has been a big part of that.

“So, it will be a good chance to thank the fans down there.”

Clarkson reaffirmed 198cm second-year backman Kaiden Brand for the important role on Kangaroos forward Ben Brown.

“Brandy’s probably the only one down there who has got the reach to get anywhere near Browny,” Clarkson said.

“So, he’ll probably get first crack on him, but the way we defend, we’re going to need guys to help out at different stages.

“And that includes the midfield to apply pressure on the ball so it’s not giving easy access to Brown and others.

” … their midfield is still very, very strong. They’ve got some outstanding leaders and really strong ground-level players and (Todd) Goldstein is still a very threatening ruckman.

“We need to win that midfield battle so it doesn’t get to Brown. Even in their defence with (Robbie) Tarrant and (Scott) Thompson, they acquit themselves well.”

Clarkson said it was as important for prized recruit Jaeger O’Meara as much as the club for the injury-restricted midfielder to start back with VFL affiliate the Box Hill Hawks this weekend.

“We had to make sure the bone stress in his knee was fully repaired,” he said.

“Because there has been so much hysteria around his recruitment, I think it’s important for him and our footy club and supporters and just quietening down the hysteria on whether he’s ever going to return.”

“He gets a reminder of what it’s like to play footy again. He has played very little over three years now, so any game is fantastic for him.”

Not all doom and gloom for Sharks: Gallen

The man hurting the most after Cronulla’s thrashing by Brisbane – Paul Gallen – insists it is “not all doom and gloom” for the defending premiers despite their pre-finals stumble.

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Gallen was shattered after his 300th-game celebrations were soured by Brisbane, who kept their top-four hopes alive with a 32-10 romp at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.

In contrast the Sharks could finish the round in sixth after their second straight loss.

Cronulla appeared fatigued in an error-riddled display that turned a match billed as a top-four blockbuster into a one-sided fizzer.

But Gallen – who turns 36 on Monday – warned Cronulla fans not to panic, reminding them the Sharks also appeared vulnerable before their historic premiership triumph.

Last year Cronulla lost four of their last five regular-season games before regrouping to clinch their maiden title.

“I think the motivation is still there (to defend the premiership),” Gallen said.

“We still want to win. I think we lost three in a row this time last year so it’s not all doom and gloom.

“We can turn it around in one game.”

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan went one better, saying they could fix their problems in one half.

That may be easier said than done after Cronulla made 16 errors and missed 54 tackles against Brisbane.

“I don’t think we are lacking drive or energy, I just think it is our discipline in all areas of the game and it has been an issue all year,” Flanagan said.

“But we can fix it one game. We can fix it in one half.”

Flanagan bristled at the suggestion Cronulla had finally run out of gas after clawing their way through the season earning some wins “they didn’t deserve”.

“I don’t know if we have won games we didn’t deserve to, we have fought really hard,” he said.

Flanagan couldn’t hide his disappointment after Gallen lost yet another milestone game, having lost his 100th and 200th matches.

“I don’t want that performance to take away from Gal’s 300,” Flanagan said.

“It should be celebrated. But we just couldn’t get the job done. It’s disappointing.”

Gallen became just the second man to play all of his 300 games for Cronulla, behind only Andrew Ettingshausen (328).

“I am happy I got to 300 games but it is about the team and we didn’t perform well tonight,” Gallen said.

“We are all hurting, not just me, about the performance we put on.”

Hong Kong now involved in contaminated egg scandal

Ministers and food safety chiefs from around the European Union are set to meet on September 26 in a bid to get countries to stop “blaming and shaming” each other over the scare involving the chemical fipronil.

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Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe and dozens of poultry farms closed since the discovery of fipronil, which can harm human health, was made public on August 1.

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The issue has sparked a row between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, the three countries at the epicentre of the crisis, about how long they knew about the problem.

“Blaming and shaming will bring us nowhere and I want to stop this,” Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, told AFP as he announced the meeting.

“We need to work together to draw the necessary lessons and move forward instead.”

0:00 Belgian farmer fears economic effects as egg scandal widens Share Belgian farmer fears economic effects as egg scandal widens

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said that “this is not, let’s be clear, a crisis meeting” and it is being held next month to get “distance to the events”.

Fipronil is commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals but is banned by the European Union from use in the food industry. 

The EU insists there is no threat to human health, but the World Health Organization (WHO) says that when eaten in large quantities it can harm people’s kidneys, liver and thyroid glands.

Dutch admit ‘errors’ 

Brussels said the 15 affected EU countries were Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, Britain, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Denmark, along with non-EU Switzerland.

But in a sign the crisis is going global, Brussels also announced that Hong Kong had received some tainted eggs from the Netherlands, with the southern Chinese city becoming the first place in Asia known to be affected.

Hong Kong health minister Sophia Chan said Saturday authorities were “strengthening” inspections of eggs from Europe.

As well as dealing with the immediate food safety issue, the EU is also seeking to calm tempers over the egg row after a series of divisive crises in the bloc in recent years, from Brexit to migration.

0:00 Two arrested as Europe egg scandal spreads Share Two arrested as Europe egg scandal spreads

Belgium earlier this week accused the Netherlands of knowing about the fipronil eggs since November 2016 and failing to notify other countries.

On Thursday Dutch Health Minister Edith Schippers admitted the government had made “errors” but denied a cover-up.

“We were well aware of a report of the presence of fipronil in the pens of egg-laying hens in November 2016, but there was no indication at the time that fipronil itself was found in the eggs,” said Schippers.

A Dutch whistleblower separately said he had told the authorities that Chickfriend, the Dutch company at the centre of the scandal, was illegally using fipronil in the treatment of lice in chicken pens in The Netherlands.

“I am the anonymous whistleblower,” Nick Hermens told the NPO public broadcaster.

A Belgian company, Poultry Vision, has said it provided Chickfriend with the chemical.

Dutch and Belgian investigators carried out coordinated raids on several premises on Thursday, arresting two people at Chickfriend.

However, Belgium itself has been forced to admit that it knew about fipronil in eggs back in June but kept it secret for nearly two months because of a criminal investigation.

Fresh discoveries  

Fresh discoveries of contaminated eggs have continued daily.

Denmark said on Friday it had found two tonnes of fipronil-tainted scrambled eggs, bringing the total of contaminated eggs to 22 tonnes, mainly from Belgium. 

Poland said it had discovered about 40,000 eggs imported from Germany.

French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said that since April the country had sold nearly 250,000 contaminated eggs, imported from Belgium and the Netherlands, but the risk for consumers was “very low” given French eating habits.

The food scare is one of the biggest to hit Europe since the 2013 horsemeat scandal when equine meat was falsely labelled and mis-sold.

Previous food scandals include contamination of chickens and eggs by dioxin in 1999, which began in Belgium, and mad-cow disease — cattle feed contaminated by the ground-up carcasses of animals infected with a deadly brain disorder — which ran from roughly 1986-1998 and started in Britain.

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