Lanka police hit back after media flak over deadly riots

Updated 23 June 2014
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Lanka police hit back after media flak over deadly riots

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police announced Sunday they were tightening security in the capital after local media, in a rare show of unity, condemned them for failing to control Buddhist extremists behind deadly anti-Muslim riots.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said security would be stepped up in Colombo Monday following reports that a Muslim group was planning a demonstration to denounce an alleged arson attack at a Muslim-owned shop over the weekend.
“We have reports of a hartal (work stoppage) on Monday,” Rohana said. “We are making arrangements to ensure that there is no trouble. There will be tighter security.” He dismissed the barrage of media criticism Sunday that police should take the blame for anti-Muslim riots carried out by hard-line Buddhists a week ago which left four people dead, 80 wounded, and hundreds of homes and shops destroyed.
“It is unfair to blame one individual, there are so many factors involved,” Rohana said, referring to a call for Inspector General of Police (IGP) N. K. Illangakoon to step down.
The privately-run The Nation weekly took the unusual step Sunday of leading its front page with an editorial, with the blunt headline: “The IGP must resign.”
Other media joined in blasting officials for failing to rein in a hard-line Buddhist group known as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS or the Buddhist Force), blamed for much of the unrest.
“Arrest him,” the Sunday Leader newspaper demanded in a headline, referring to the head of the BBS, Galagodaatte Gnanasara, who has publicly denied causing trouble.
Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times said the burning down of the Muslim-owned No-Limit clothing store outside Colombo on Saturday “is an indication that some people might want this violence to spread.”
Police were investigating the cause of the blaze, which Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, the most senior Muslim in President Mahinda Rajapakse’s cabinet, described Saturday as an arson attack.
Rohana said forensic experts were expected to visit the charred building on Monday.
The Sunday Times said a majority of Buddhists in the country did not support the extremist views of the few monks who were behind the hate campaign, and that they should be dealt with before the unrest escalates further.
Some reports also echoed charges by the main opposition United National Party that patronage by senior government figures may have held police back from acting against the BBS. The UNP has accused the country’s powerful defense secretary and president’s younger brother, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, of backing the BBS.
Gotabhaya Rajapakse had opened a Buddhist cultural center at the southern town of Galle in March last year in the company of BBS leaders, while President Mahinda Rajapakse opened a Buddhist center with a BBS leader in Colombo in April 2011.
Justice Minister Hakeem has strongly criticized the BBS and has asked the president to order an independent probe into last week’s riots targeting Muslims, who account for some 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million.
Hakeem, in a statement issued on Saturday night, blamed the government for failing to control the BBS, which last year led a successful campaign to take halal certification off food sold to non-Muslims in the majority-Buddhist nation.
“Irrespective of who is responsible for the terrible events that unfolded... none would dispute that it was a serious dislocation of the ability of the state to maintain the rule of law,” Hakeem said after an emergency meeting Saturday with the president.
The president has said he is ordering a probe into “recent disturbances.”


No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

Updated 17 July 2019
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No-deal Brexit looms as race for new British PM wraps up

  • Many lawmakers, business community fear dire economic outcome
  • A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit

LONDON: The battle to become Britain's next prime minister enters the home straight on Wednesday with both candidates hardening their positions on Brexit, putting the future government on a collision course with Brussels.
Ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace Theresa May, and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, are now both referring to Britain's departure with no overall deal in place as a realistic prospect.
The business community and many lawmakers fear dire economic consequences from a no-deal Brexit, which would lead to immediate trade tariffs for some sectors including the automotive industry.
Johnson and Hunt are taking part in a final question-and-answer session later on Wednesday before the result of the vote by Conservative Party members is announced next Tuesday.
The new party leader will be confirmed as prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II on the following day.
Britain has twice delayed its scheduled departure from the European Union after 46 years of membership as May tried and failed to get her deal with Brussels through parliament.
The two candidates vying to replace her have vowed to scrap a "backstop" provision in the agreement that Brussels insisted upon to keep the Irish border open.
Their latest attacks on the measure during a debate on Monday prompted a plunge in the value of the British pound.
The currency fell again Wednesday to its lowest level against the US dollar in over two years.
"The tougher stance from both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in terms of their rhetoric on Brexit is clearly weighing on the pound," said market analyst Neil Wilson.
"Make no mistake, this decline in the pound is down to traders pricing in a higher chance of a no-deal exit."
The backstop has proved a key stumbling block in the Brexit process.
The measure would keep open the post-Brexit border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member the Republic of Ireland whatever the outcome of negotiations over the future relationship between London and Brussels.
Johnson announced early in his campaign that he would not sign up to it and would pursue a no-deal Brexit if required, leading his opponent to follow suit.
However, European leaders have been adamant that the backstop must remain a part of any divorce deal, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who will become European Commission president in November, said the draft withdrawal agreement provided "certainty".
She also broached a possible further delay to Britain's departure, saying: "I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date, should more time be required for a good reason."
Johnson has pledged that under his leadership, Britain will leave "do or die" on the current deadline of October 31.
A majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons are opposed to a no-deal Brexit, but attempts to pass legislation blocking the scenario have failed.
Reports this week suggested Johnson is considering plans to end the current session of parliament in early October, leaving MPs powerless.
Finance Minister Philip Hammond said Wednesday it was "terrifying" that some Brexit supporters thought that no deal would leave Britain better off.
And in a speech in London, May said the "best route" for Britain was to leave with a deal.
Delivering her last major address, she railed against the trend towards "absolutism" in Britain and abroad, and urged her successor to compromise.
"Whatever path we take must be sustainable for the long term, so that delivering Brexit brings our country back together. That has to mean some kind of compromise," she said.