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.”


US Secretary of State Pompeo makes unannounced visit to Kabul

Updated 25 June 2019
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US Secretary of State Pompeo makes unannounced visit to Kabul

  • Pompeo met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during an unannounced visit to Kabul to discuss ongoing peace talks with the Taliban
  • Pompeo stopped over on his way to New Delhi for meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials

KABUL: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during an unannounced visit to Kabul on Tuesday to discuss ongoing peace talks with the Taliban and the security situation ahead of Afghan presidential polls in September.
Pompeo stopped over on his way to New Delhi for meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials.
“With so much going on in the world right now it’s sometimes easy to forget about America’s commitment here to Afghanistan, but the world should know that the Trump administration has not forgotten, the American people have not forgotten,” Pompeo said in Kabul.
His visit to Afghanistan comes ahead of a seventh round of peace talks between Taliban leaders and US officials aimed at finding a political settlement to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan. The next round of peace talks is scheduled to begin on June 29 in Doha.
The talks between the United States and the Taliban will focus on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan and on a Taliban guarantee that militants will not plot attacks from Afghan soil.
“While we’ve made clear to the Taliban that were prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear, we’ve not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” said Pompeo.
“We agree that peace is our highest priority and that Afghanistan must never again serve as a platform for international terrorism.”
He said the two sides are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitment to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for “terrorists.”
Momentum for talks with the Taliban is steadily building, with a special US peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, pushing the peace process and insurgent leaders showing serious interest in negotiating for the first time. Ghani has also offered repeatedly to talk with the Taliban but they have insisted that they will not deal directly with the Ghani government.
“All sides agree that finalizing a US-Taliban understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door to intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiation,” Pompeo said, adding that next step is at the heart of the US effort.
“We are not and will not negotiate with the Taliban on behalf of the government or people of Afghanistan.”