Sri Lankan PM quits to end political deadlock

In this Nov. 3, 2018 file photo, Sri Lanka's then appointed prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks to members loyal to him at his office in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Sri Lankan PM quits to end political deadlock

  • Sri Lanka has had no functioning government for nearly two weeks
  • The country runs the risk of being unable to use state funds from Jan. 1 if there is no government to approve the budget

COLOMBO: Embattled Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Saturday after calling for general elections to end the political deadlock that has left the country without a functioning government.
Rajapaksa signed his resignation letter surrounded by party supporters at his home in Colombo 7. Clergy from the island’s three major religions chanted verses to bless Rajapaksa following his decision to step down.
“I will resign from the position of prime minister and make way for the president to form a new government,” Rajapaksa said.
Sri Lanka has been in political crisis since October when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and named Rajapaksa as his replacement. The country’s Parliament has twice rejected the appointment.
Rajapaksa, a former president, is considered a war hero by some for defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 after a long civil war. He lost a 2015 re-election bid after facing allegations of wartime atrocities and corruption.
Rajapaksa’s resignation comes a day after the Supreme Court extended a lower court’s suspension of the prime minister and his Cabinet.
Sri Lanka has had no functioning government for almost two weeks and faces the prospect of being unable to pass a budget for next year.
According to Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, general secretary of the ruling United National Party, former premier Wickremesinghe will return to be sworn in as prime minister on Sunday and form a new Cabinet.
In a speech to party supporters, Rajapaksa said that he had no intention of remaining in power unless a general election was held.
“We are now in direct confrontation with a group of political parties that has engaged in various subterfuges to avoid facing elections,” he said.
“What we are confronted with is an attempt to rule the country without holding any kind of election. We cannot implement any of the measures we had planned to prevent this country from becoming another Greece.”
The UNP government has taken out $20.7 billion in foreign currency loans over the past four years, but the political deadlock leaves questions about how the borrowing will be repaid.
Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka’s people would one day “definitely get the change they desire.”
Seyed Ali Zahir Moulana, a legislator and former diplomat in the US, welcomed Rajapaksa’s resignation. “It proves that democracy is still alive in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Rajapaksa’s appointment had plunged the country into chaos, he said.
“Violence was seen erupting in the temple of democracy, the Parliament of Sri Lanka, and its members were seen stooping to the lowest levels of conduct ... to disrupt and agitate,” the analyst said.
However, despite a barrage of attacks on the constitutional principles of the state, the judiciary and legislature had stayed resilient and independent. “If there was anything deserving of praise in the past seven weeks, it is the harmonious functioning of these institutions,” he said.
Azath Salley, a political commentator and leader of the National Unity Alliance, said that Rajapaksa’s resignation had ended the “ordeal of the people.”


Death toll reaches 73 in Mexico fuel pipeline fire horror

Updated 20 January 2019
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Death toll reaches 73 in Mexico fuel pipeline fire horror

  • The explosion of the illegal pipeline in central Mexico killed more than 70 people
  • The new president promised earlier to fight the epidemic of fuel theft

TLAHUELILPAN, Mexico: They were warned to stay away from the geyser of gasoline gushing from the illegally tapped pipeline in central Mexico, but Gerardo Perez says he and his son joined others in bypassing the soldiers. As they neared the spurting fuel he was overcome with foreboding.
Perez recalls telling his son: “Let’s go ... this thing is going to explode.”
And it did, with a fireball that engulfed locals scooping up the spilling gasoline and underscored the dangers of an epidemic of fuel theft from pipelines that Mexico’s new president has vowed to fight.
By Saturday evening the death toll from Friday’s blaze had risen to 73, with another 74 people injured and dozens more were missing. Perez and his son escaped the flames.