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President says he’s considering a quarantine of the South American nation

Pressure tactics: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro with wife Cilia Flores and other officials in Caracas.REUTERSHANDOUT

President Donald Trump imposed a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. on Monday, sharply escalating an economic and diplomatic pressure campaign aimed at removing socialist President Nicolas Maduro from power.

The executive order signed by Mr. Trump goes well beyond the sanctions imposed in recent months against Venezuela’s State-run oil company PDVSA and the country’s financial sector, as well as measures against dozens of Venezuelan officials and entities.

Mr. Trump’s action, the toughest yet against Mr. Maduro, not only bans U.S. companies from dealings with the Venezuela government but also appears to open the door to possible sanctions against foreign firms or individuals that assist it.

Russian and Chinese companies are among those still doing significant business in the South American OPEC nation.

“All property and interests in property of the Government of Venezuela that are in the United States... are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in,” according to the executive order released by the White House.

The U.S. and most Western nations have called for Mr. Maduro to step down and have recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate President.

Coup attempt

Mr. Guaido, accused by Mr. Maduro of mounting a U.S.-directed coup attempt, appointed a board for Citgo Petroleum, Venezuela’s most important foreign asset, earlier this year.

Mr. Trump said on Thursday he was considering a quarantine or blockade of Venezuela, although he did not elaborate at the time on when or how such a blockade would be imposed.

He is taking more dramatic action after numerous rounds of sanctions failed to turn Venezuela’s military against Mr. Maduro or make significant progress in dislodging him.

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said the freeze was designed to ”formalise a criminal economic, financial, and commercial blockade” of the country but said the government would continue political dialogue with the opposition.

Mr. Trump said in a letter to Congress the decision was necessary “in light of the continued usurpation of power by the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime, as well as the regime’s human rights abuses and arbitrary detention of Venezuelan citizens.”

Her work explored the experiences of African Americans

A file photo of Toni Morrison. NYTSARA KRULWICH

Toni Morrison, the 1993 Nobel laureate in literature, whose work explored black identity in America and in particular the experience of black women, died on Monday in New York City, her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement. She was 88.

The first African American woman to win the Nobel in literature, Ms. Morrison was the author of several novels, children’s books and essays. Among them were celebrated works like Song of Solomon, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Ms. Morrison was one of the rare American authors whose books were both critical and commercial successes.

Her novels appeared regularly on The New York Times best-seller list, were featured multiple times on Oprah Winfrey’s book club and were the subject of myriad critical studies.

A long-time faculty member at Princeton University, Ms. Morrison lectured widely and was seen often on television.

Unique style

In awarding the Nobel to Ms. Morrison, the Swedish Academy cited her “novels characterised by visionary force and poetic import,” through which she “gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Ms. Morrison animated that reality in a style resembling that of no other writer in English.

Her prose, often luminous and incantatory, rings with the cadences of black oral tradition.

Her plots are dreamlike and non-linear, spooling backward and forward in time as though characters bring the entire weight of history to bear on their every act. NY Times

Electoral rallies and gatherings could become potential targets, warn insurgents

The Taliban warned Afghans on Tuesday to keep away from election rallies and ordered its fighters to “stand against” the planned September vote.

The militants and other insurgent groups conducted frequent attacks during previous elections, and this year’s campaign season has already been rocked by deadly violence.

The presidential election is slated for September 28, but the race has got off to a lacklustre start and some candidates have yet to launch their campaigns.

Peace talks

Many observers think the poll will be postponed again — it has already been pushed back twice this year — to create space for a peace deal to be finalised between the U.S. and the Taliban.

The Taliban said its fighters should “stand against this theatrical and sham of a process to their full capabilities” — a clear instruction to conduct attacks.

“To prevent losses, God forbid, from being incurred by our fellow compatriots, they must stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets,” a message posted on the Taliban’s website stated.

The Taliban said Afghan elections do not “hold any value”, referring to the 2014 presidential poll that was mired in fraud allegations and saw the U.S. broker a power-sharing deal between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Last month, on the first day of the campaign season, suicide bombers and gunmen stormed the Kabul office of Amrullah Saleh, Mr. Ghani’s running-mate, killing at least 20 people.

In a statement, Mr. Ghani’s office said security forces are “fully prepared” to protect Afghans against Taliban threats and would not allow anyone to disrupt polls.

“Participation in elections and choosing a leader through direct voting is the religious and legal right of the Afghan people,” it read.

Yang Guang

China warned Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday that “those who play with fire will perish by it”, a day after the most widespread unrest of the two-month crisis.

In its harshest warning yet Beijing said the immense strength of the Central government should not be underestimated as police in the semi-autonomous city announced they had arrested 148 people in connection with Monday’s violence.

The city has been plunged into chaos by weeks of protests triggered by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. The protests have since evolved into a wider movement for democratic reform and the protection of freedoms.

At a press briefing in Beijing, Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said the “radical protests... have severely impacted Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, pushing it into a dangerous abyss”.

Mr. Yang said the government still “firmly supports” both the Hong Kong police force — who have been criticised for their handling of the protests — and Carrie Lam, the city’s pro-Beijing leader, whose resignation the protesters demand.

“We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: Those who play with fire will perish by it,” Mr. Yang said.

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