Former AFP journalist murdered in Sri Lanka: police

Updated 02 February 2014
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Former AFP journalist murdered in Sri Lanka: police

COLOMBO: Former Agence France-Presse journalist Mel Gunasekera was stabbed to death on Sunday after a break-in at her family's home in Colombo, police said.
The body of Gunasekera, who had been working for the international ratings agency Fitch, was discovered by her parents at their house in the Battaramulla neighborhood after they returned from church, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
"We have deployed several investigating teams and we are depending on forensic evidence," Rohana said, adding that no arrests had been made.
Although no one has been arrested for the murder, Rohana said police had taken fingerprints and were studying closed-circuit television footage.
Gunasekera, 40, was an assistant vice president at Fitch's Sri Lankan operation, a position she took up in 2012 after a five-year stint as Colombo correspondent for AFP.
As well as reporting extensively on financial and political affairs in Sri Lanka, she also made several visits as a journalist to the neighboring Maldives.
She was also the founding editor of Lanka Business Online, which is one of Sri Lanka's best known financial news portals.

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Beyond Sri Lankan provincial elections

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Beyond Sri Lankan provincial elections

As a large majority of the sizable 715,000 eligible voters from Sri Lanka’s troubled north went into makeshift polling booths to cast their preferences for electing a 38 member provincial council on September 21, India’s influence was written all over.
From a five member election observer team led by former election commission chief N. Gopalaswami to transparent ballot boxes imported especially from India for use in polls, New Delhi seems to have invested heavily on this democratic process which is expected to usher a renewed hope for genuine reconciliation. With a 72 million Tamil population of its own who shares the grief of their Sri Lankan brethren and the imminent threat of China making inroads into Sri Lanka through strategic investment, India does have a vested interest in setting things straight in the island nation.
Moreover, it is the India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987 — inked by President J.R. Jayawardene and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi — that forms the basis for creating a council system to devolve power to provincial levels. India, having provided moral and logistical support to the ethnic Tamil movement in Sri Lanka, which later turned violent, somehow believed that the model of decentralized local self-governance could bring that elusive peace in this war-ravaged nation. Hence, New Delhi put subtle pressure on President Jayawardene to delegate effective power to Tamil dominated northern province and at the same time seek a referendum to ascertain whether the citizens of the east prefer to merge with the north. Despite stiff resistance from the then National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, Jayawardene went ahead with his plan to issue presidential proclamation for enabling the merger of northern and eastern provinces into one administrative unit in 1988.
However, this formula flopped after the bete noires, Sinhalas and Tamils, joined hand to defeat what they believed to be Indian imperialism in South Asia. For the foot soldiers of the Indian security establishment who were in the thick of things in northern Sri Lanka, trying to restore some semblance of order, those were nightmarish moments. Having bore the brunt of a violent backlash from both sides of the divide, most of them would indeed like to erase those turbulent days from memory permanently. Now that India is once again exerting her influence to broker a just deal, the back-channel interlocutors must not loose sight of the fact that a majority of the Sinhala people would link this attempt to New Delhi’s virtually non-existent territorial ambition. Let us not forget that years of rigid political discourse based on competitive nationalism — encouraged by both the Sinhala and Tamil political class — has vitiated the political atmosphere to such an extent that it has become extremely difficult for Rajapaksa to convince the Sinhala people that Sri Lanka’s well being lies in abandoning the dogmatic resistance to any sort of power sharing arrangement with the minorities. The skeptical majority is yet to recognize the hard reality that at the end of the day the Tamils, Muslims and Christians are also citizens of the same land and have equal rights to participate in nation rebuilding. Since, New Delhi’s excessive interference in Sri Lankan affairs over the years is one among the many reasons — apart from racial ostracism promoted by the Sri Lankan state historically — for the entrenchment of this deep rooted trust deficit in Sri Lankan society, it is incumbent on India to perform a perfect balancing act.
By this way, not only the Sinhalas can be assured that their giant northern neighbor harbors no ill will or aggressive designs against their motherland but also encourage the Rajapaksa regime to move beyond the optimistic first step of holding a long overdue provincial election, even if it is under duress.
Rajapaksa claims that, “this is the first free election in thirty years afforded to northern people to express themselves in a vote.” But with allegations of army intimidation coming to the fore, fixing the issue at the earliest is a political imperative for him. Otherwise the northern most part of the island nation, already the most militarized zone in the region, will gradually turn into another Kashmir-like fortress. Also, the state machinery would do well to resist the temptation of projecting high turnout in elections as sign of diminishing disenchantment. Let there be no doubt whatsoever that a long distance still needs to be traversed before the Sri Lankan government can genuinely win the hearts and minds of its minority populace.
Yes, there has been violation of election law, systematic misuse of state resources, assault on voters and bullying of candidates belonging to the Tamil parties in the run up to and during election. But such aberrations, visible even in the most vibrant of democracies like India, should be no reason for despondency. This election, with all its significance, was scrutinized minutely at the international level and the victorious Tamil National Alliance’s chief ministerial candidate C.V. Vigneswaran’s call for mutual cooperation and trust building will set the ball rolling for future negotiations. Besides, given the importance of Tamil vote share in Indian general elections slated for 2014 and the reality of Dravidian-Tamil politics revolving around the hopes and aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils, the ruling elites in New Delhi would inevitably be tempted to cajole Rajapaksa into delegating land and police power to the newly elected provincial council instead of seeking ways to dilute the 13th constitutional amendment. But the world eagerly await the day when Sri Lanka will achieve real integration with all the ethnic groups living side by side harmoniously, right from north to south.

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Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

Updated 4 min 34 sec ago
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Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

WASHINGTON: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday excoriated her political nemesis, President Donald Trump, for “outing” her commercial trip to Afghanistan after barring her from using a military aircraft, forcing her to scrap it entirely over security concerns.
The brawl between the no-nonsense Republican leader and the take-no-prisoners Democrat — who is now just two heartbeats away from the presidency — is the latest round in their shutdown showdown.
The federal government has been shuttered for four weeks over Trump’s insistence that a wider budget measure include billions of dollars for a wall on the border with Mexico — and Pelosi’s refusal to do so.
Their spat spilled into the diplomatic arena on Thursday when, after Pelosi suggested that Trump postpone his State of the Union address until the government reopens, the president grounded her military flight.
Pelosi accused Trump of being “very irresponsible” in breaching security protocol.
“We had a report from Afghanistan that the president outing our trip had made the scene on the ground much more dangerous because it’s just a signal to the bad actors that we’re coming,” she told reporters.
The administration strongly denies that it “leaked” any plans about the trip to a war zone.
“The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat-out lie,” a senior White House official said.
The US government shutdown, which has left about 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck, is now the longest in the country’s history — and there is no sign of a compromise.
The Office of Management and Budget reportedly issued a memorandum saying that “under no circumstance during a government shutdown” can a congressional delegation use government aircraft for travel.
However, Republican Representative Lee Zeldin led a delegation to Iraq and other countries since the shutdown began.
Pelosi’s office sounded off on the administration’s handling of her trip, which had not been announced for security reasons.
The State Department released an updated assessment stressing that Trump’s announcement of the Pelosi travel “had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops,” her spokesman Drew Hammill said.
“This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”
Democratic lawmakers have expressed outrage.
“As a former member of the Intelligence Committee who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, disclosing ANY Members’ travel into a war zone is disgraceful and dangerous,” tweeted House Democrat Jan Schakowsky.
“This is unprecedented.”
Trump lashed out at Pelosi once again on Twitter, asking why she and other Democrats would leave the country “on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid.”
And then his re-election campaign team released a tongue-in-cheek shutdown-related campaign fundraising request.
For a contribution of $20.20, a reference to the next election year, the campaign told supporters it would send a fake red brick to Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — to build a wall.