Sri Lankan rivals tempt defectors to swing crisis

Sri Lanka’s sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attends a media briefing at his official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (AP/Eranga Jayawardena)
Updated 30 October 2018
0

Sri Lankan rivals tempt defectors to swing crisis

  • Wickremesinghe has 105 MPs in the 225-seat chamber while Rajapaksa and Sirisena together have 98
  • Despite calls by Wickremesinghe, the US and other countries for parliament to be called to end the crisis, Sirisena showed no sign of lifting his suspension of parliament meetings

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s rival prime ministers battled to tempt lawmakers from opposing sides Tuesday as they sought numbers to swing any vote of confidence held in parliament to end the country’s constitutional crisis.
Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was named head of government by the president on Friday, gave four legislators from rival Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party ministerial portfolios after persuading them to defect on Monday.
Wickremesinghe, who has remained in the prime minister’s residence since he was sacked on Friday, has in turn convinced two lawmakers from President Maithripala Sirisena’s camp to join his United National Party.
Following the defections, Wickremesinghe has 105 MPs in the 225-seat chamber while Rajapaksa and Sirisena together have 98. A majority of the 22 remaining MPs are expected to back Wickremesinghe in any vote but the horse-trading is sure to intensify, observers said.
A deputy minister in Wickremesinghe’s administration, Ranjan Ramanayake, accused China of funding Rajapaksa’s buying of legislators.
“I am telling China not to spend their millions to buy MPs in Sri Lanka. They want to buy the country wholesale,” he said.
Rajapaksa led a pro-China policy during his 10 years as president up to 2015. But the claim was denied by the Chinese embassy in Colombo.
“Recent allegations about China by MP Ranjan Ramanayake are groundless and irresponsible,” said an embassy statement to AFP.
“It is a matter of internal affairs, and China has consistently supported the principle of non-interference in other country’s internal affairs.”
Despite calls by Wickremesinghe, the United States and other countries for parliament to be called to end the crisis, Sirisena showed no sign of lifting his suspension of parliament meetings which runs until November 16.
Wickremesinghe’s finance minister Mangala Samaraweera said the president is trying to buy time to secure votes in the legislature to back Rajapaksa as prime minister.
“If he (the president) has the majority there is no need to keep parliament shut. He wants to buy time to do some horse deals,” Samaraweera said.
Parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who on Monday warned of a “bloodbath” unless the assembly is allowed to vote for Wickremesighe or Rajapaksa, is to meet with political party leaders on Tuesday.
Sirisena appointed a 12-member cabinet late Monday giving the powerful finance portfolio to Rajapaksa. Aides said the cabinet will be expanded to 30 members on Tuesday.
Rajapaksa — whose rule was marked by grave allegations of rights abuses and authoritarianism — said he was given the job because his predecessor’s party “engaged in a quest to sell off valuable state assets and enterprises to foreign companies.”
“I was aware that at this moment of national peril, the people expected our leadership and protection,” Rajapaksa said after the cabinet was named. “Hence, I accepted the invitation.”


Cambodia seizes record 3-ton haul of African ivory

This photo taken on December 13, 2018 shows Cambodian Customs and Excise Officials looking at ivory seized from a shipping container at the Phnom Penh port. (AFP)
Updated 31 min 59 sec ago
0

Cambodia seizes record 3-ton haul of African ivory

  • Demand from China and Vietnam has fueled the growth of illegal wildlife trafficking via Cambodia

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia seized more than 3.2 tons of elephant tusks hidden in a storage container sent from Mozambique, a customs official said Sunday, marking the country’s largest ivory bust.
The discovery Thursday of 1,026 tusks at the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port followed a tip from the US embassy, the official said, and highlights Cambodia’s emergence as a key regional transit point for the multibillion dollar trade in illicit wildlife.
“The elephant tusks were hidden among marble in a container that was abandoned,” Sun Chhay, director of the Customs and Excise Office at the port, told AFP.
He said the ivory was sent from the southern African nation of Mozambique and arrived at the port last year.
The unidentified owner of the shipment did not arrive to pick up the cargo.
Pictures of the massive haul showed long rows of confiscated tusks spread out on the ground at the port.
Sun Chhay said he did not know whether the shipment was destined for markets in other countries.
Demand from China and Vietnam has fueled the growth of illegal wildlife trafficking via Cambodia.
Weak law enforcement and corruption attract wildlife smugglers, especially at a time when neighboring Thailand is cracking down on the banned trade.
Ivory is prized for its beauty while the market in traditional medicine has led to the smuggling of rhino horn and pangolin scales.
Cambodia has a minuscule elephant population but its emergence as a new trafficking hub has resulted in several headline-grabbing busts over the past five years.
The largest before this week occured in 2014, when Cambodian customs seized about three tons of ivory hidden in a container of beans at the southwestern port of Sihanoukville.
Last year, Cambodia also seized nearly a ton of ivory hidden in hollowed-out logs discovered inside an abandoned container, owned by a company based in Mozambique.