US and others denounce dissolution of Sri Lanka parliament as undemocratic

Wickremesinghe refused to vacate the official prime minister’s residence saying he was the prime minister and had a parliamentary majority. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 November 2018
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US and others denounce dissolution of Sri Lanka parliament as undemocratic

  • The president triggered an intense power struggle when he sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe late last month and appointed the island’s former leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place
  • India and the West have raised concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament, worsening an already major political crisis, has drawn criticism from Western powers, including the United States and Britain.
Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday night, only five days before it was due to reconvene and he was in danger of losing a vote of no confidence. He has also called a general election for Jan. 5.
The president triggered an intense power struggle when he sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe late last month and appointed the island’s former leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, a pro-China strongman ousted by Sirisena in 2015, in his place.
Sirisena’s rivals are set to challenge his decision, which they describe as illegal and unconstitutional, in the Supreme Court on Monday.
The US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in a tweet that the United States was “deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis.” It said democracy needed to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.
Mark Field, the British minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, tweeted his concern about the dissolution of parliament days before it was due to be reconvened.
“As a friend of Sri Lanka, the UK calls on all parties to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes,” Field said.
Canada’s Foreign Policy twitter feed said that it was “deeply concerned” about the decision and referred to the risks to reconciliation work after the nation’s civil war.
“This further political uncertainty is corrosive to Sri Lanka’s democratic future and its commitments on reconciliation and accountability,” it said.
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed both concern and disappointment in a statement, saying the move “undermines Sri Lanka’s long democratic tradition and poses a risk to its stability and prosperity.”
Sirisena has said he fired Wickremesinghe because the prime minister was trying to implement “a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people’s sentiment.”
India and the West have raised concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China. Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015, putting the country deep into debt.
Wickremesinghe refused to vacate the official prime minister’s residence saying he was the prime minister and had a parliamentary majority.
Before he signed the papers dissolving parliament and calling the election, Sirisena appointed allies of his and of Rajapaksa to cabinet positions.
Independent legal experts have told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament. The only other legal way would be through a referendum, or with the consent of two thirds of lawmakers.
Given those views, it was not immediately clear how Sirisena is on legal safe ground by dissolving parliament, though his legal experts have said there are provisions for him to do so.


French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

Updated 42 min 35 sec ago
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French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

PARIS: France will deploy tens of thousands of police nationwide and around 8,000 in Paris on Saturday to handle a fifth weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests, although the movement appears to be losing steam after concessions by President Emmanuel Macron.
The chief of police in Paris said concerns remained about violent groups infiltrating the protests. Anti-riot officers will protect landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and prevent people getting close to the presidential palace.
“We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” police chief Michel Delpuech told RTL radio.
He expected businesses in the capital to be less affected this weekend after heavy disruption over the past three weeks when major stores shut, hotels suffered cancelations and tourists stayed away during the usually busy run-up to Christmas.
Nicknamed “Acte V” of the protests, the yellow vest demonstrators will take to the streets this weekend as France recovers from an unrelated attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, when a gunman shot and killed three people and wounded several others.
Hundreds of police officers were redeployed to Strasbourg to search for the gunman, who was shot dead in an exchange of fire on Thursday evening.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said it was time for the yellow vests to scale down their protests and accept they had achieved their aims. Police officers also deserved a break, he added.
“I’d rather have the police force doing their real job, chasing criminals and combating the terrorism threat, instead of securing roundabouts where a few thousand people keep a lot of police busy,” he said.
TOLL ON THE ECONOMY
Attractions such as the Louvre museum and Opera Garnier will be open this weekend, as will luxury department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Last Saturday they were closed as thousands of sometimes violent protesters tore through the city. The previous weekend the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized, cars were overturned and torched and businesses smashed up.
The protests have taken a toll on the economy, with output in the last quarter of the year set to be half initial projections, while Macron’s concessions are likely to push the budget deficit above an EU agreed limit.
The yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes and then grew into an anti-Macron alliance, appears to have calmed since the president announced a series of measures to help the working poor.
However, many people wearing the high-visibility motorists’ safety jackets which are the symbol of the protests were manning barricades outside cities on Friday.
After heavy criticism for not being seen to respond to the protesters’ complaints, Macron made a TV address this week during which he said he understood their concerns and acknowledged the need for a different approach.
As well canceling fuel tax increases that were due to kick in next month, Macron said he would increase the minimum wage by 100 euros a month from January and reduce taxes for poorer pensioners, among other measures.
Since the first yellow vest protests on Nov. 17, supporters have kept up a steady stream of dissent, although the numbers joining marches have steadily fallen. ($1 = 0.8857 euros)