Sirisena victory delights Sri Lankan expats in Saudi Arabia

Updated 10 January 2015
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Sirisena victory delights Sri Lankan expats in Saudi Arabia

There was widespread jubilation among the 500,000-strong Sri Lankan expatriate community in the Kingdom as they savored the victory of Maithripala Sirisena over incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential elections on Thursday.
For the expatriates, it was a long night on Thursday. Such was their excitement that they remained glued to their television sets until the wee hours of Friday.
As soon as the results were declared and it became clear that Rajapaksa had lost to Sirisena, there was a flurry of congratulatory messages on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
A majority of expatriates attributed Rajapaksa’s defeat to his dictatorial attitude.
“Yes, Rajapaksa did a lot of good things, but then he became a little arrogant and stopped listening to the grievances of the minorities, especially the Tamils, Muslims and Christians,” said prominent Jeddah-based Sri Lankan community leader H.M. Rafeek.
“The anger of the minorities against Rajapaksa was reflected in the massive turnout in the country’s north and east ... There was a 70 percent turnout and it was overwhelmingly against Rajapaksa,” he said.
Rafeek said Sri Lankans were looking for change. “The minorities want equal rights, and freedom to practice their religion,” he said.
“Sirisena is a down-to-earth person. He has with him people from different backgrounds and that inspires confidence among all sections of the country,” he said.
It was not only members of the minorities who voted against Rajapaksa. The Sinhalese, who form the country’s majority, also felt uneasy with him. They voted for Sirisena in substantial numbers.
However, Riyadh-based Dilan Bandara, a Sinhala expatriate, was not happy with the result. “Rajapaksa will always be remembered for defeating the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. For me, and many like me, Rajapaksa was the best president ever,” said Bandara.
Sarath Perera agreed with Bandara. “Rajapaksa was our war hero,” he said. “He brought peace to our country. He defied Western pressure to finish off Vellupillai Prabakaran and his terrorist gang.
But the Tamil expatriates, like the Muslims, were ecstatic at Rajapaksa’s defeat. “Rajapaksa did not show any interest in resolving the political problems of minority communities such as the Tamils, Muslims and Christians. Now, we feel we have a chance to build national unity,” said Alkhobar-based T. Mahesan, an engineer. “We look forward to a new era of peace and prosperity under President Sirisena.”
“Political reconciliation and maximum devolution of power to northern and eastern provinces should be a priority for the new president,” C. Kunarajah told Arab News. “He should remove all forms of racial discrimination.”
The new prime minister got the thumbs-up from expatriates. “A real gentleman has become the premier of Sri Lanka,” said Ibrahim Jiffry, referring to the appointment of Ranil Wickremasinghe as the new premier.
There was also praise for Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya and Inspector General of Police N.K. Illangakoon for holding a peaceful election. No major incidents of violence were reported at this presidential election.
One expatriate had a key word of advice for the new president.
“Competent career diplomats should be appointed to Gulf countries,” said Indika Gunasekara from Jubail. “Rajapaksa has been sending political lackeys as diplomats to work at Sri Lankan missions in the Middle East. This practice has to stop. Only talented diplomats can protect the interests of Sri Lankans abroad.”
Gunasekara said migrant workers in the Gulf need strong diplomatic support from the embassies. “We request the new president to overhaul the foreign service,” he said.
Sri Lankan Muslim expatriates were seen exchanging greetings and embracing each other after Friday prayers. “I couldn’t sleep the whole night out of excitement,” added Rafeek. “You can say we voted for change. We voted for a new, inclusive Sri Lanka.”


Kuril islands: strategic chain at heart of Russia-Japan dispute

Updated 34 min 2 sec ago
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Kuril islands: strategic chain at heart of Russia-Japan dispute

  • Soviet troops seized the Kuril Islands from Japan in the final days of World War II
  • The islands are rich in hot springs and minerals and rare metals such as rhenium

MOSCOW: Called the Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, a string of volcanic islands are at the heart of a feud between the two countries that has prevented them signing a formal World War II peace treaty.
Talks stalled for decades due to Japan’s claim to the four strategic islands seized by the Soviet army in the final days of the war.
Here are some key facts about the Kuril islands:

• The disputed islands of Iturup (Etorofu in Japanese), Kunashir (Kunashiri), Shikotan and Habomai lie at their closest point just a few kilometers (miles) off the north coast of Hokkaido in Japan.
They are the southernmost islands in a volcanic chain that separates the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean.
They are located to the southeast of the Russian island of Sakhalin and are administratively part of the same region, although Tokyo considers them part of its Hokkaido prefecture and “illegally occupied by Russia.”

• Russian Empress Catherine the Great claimed sovereignty over the Kuril islands in 1786 after her government declared they were discovered by “Russian explorers” and therefore “undoubtedly must belong to Russia.”
In the first treaty between tsarist Russia and Japan in 1855, the frontier between the two countries was drawn just north of the four islands closest to Japan.
Twenty years later in 1875, a new treaty handed Tokyo the entire chain, in exchange for Russia gaining full control of the island of Sakhalin.
Japan seized back control of the southern half of Sakhalin after its crushing defeat of Moscow in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War.

• The Kuril islands have been back at the center of a dispute between Moscow and Tokyo since Soviet troops invaded them in the final days of World War II.
The USSR only entered into war with Japan on August 9, 1945, just after the United States had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The Soviet troops completed the takeover of the islands after Japan’s general surrendered later that month.


Russia argues that then US president Franklin Roosevelt promised Soviet leader Joseph Stalin he could take back the Kurils in exchange for joining the war against Japan when they met at the Yalta conference in February 1945 at which the Allied leaders divided up the post-war world.
The Soviet capture of the islands has since prevented Moscow and Tokyo from signing a formal peace treaty to end the war, despite repeated attempts over the past 70 years to reach an agreement.
In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev first offered to give Japan the two smallest islands, Shikotan and Habomai, in exchange for signing a peace treaty but dropped the idea after Tokyo struck a military alliance with the United States.

Rich in hot springs and rare metals
Strategically, control of the islands ensures Russia has year-round access to the Pacific Ocean for its Pacific Fleet of warships and submarines based in Vladivostok, as the strait between Kunashir and Iturup does not freeze over in winter.
Russia has military bases on the archipelago and has deployed missile systems on the islands.
The islands’ current population is around 20,000 people.
After numerous meetings over the past few years between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin, they have launched various economic projects on the islands in areas such as the farming of fish and shellfish, wind-generated energy, and tourism, though Moscow says investment is still meagre.
Since 2017, the two countries have also agreed on charter flights for Japanese former inhabitants to visit family graves there.
The islands are rich in hot springs and minerals and rare metals such as rhenium, which is used in the production of supersonic aircraft.