Sri Lanka minister defects to challenge president

Updated 21 November 2014
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Sri Lanka minister defects to challenge president

COLOMBO: A senior member of Sri Lanka’s government has announced that he is quitting the ruling party to stand as the main opposition’s candidate against President Mahinda Rajapakse in upcoming elections.
“I thank the UNP (United National Party) for choosing me as the common opposition candidate,” said Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who is also general secretary in Rajapakse’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party.
“I am grateful to the UNP for choosing the general secretary of the SLFP to be their candidate,” he added.
“We will definitely win.”
Sirisena made his announcement at a press conference in Colombo, seated alongside three other ministers and former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is the main patron of the president’s party.
Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2005, declared on Thursday that he will seek an unprecedented third term as president — a move that was only made possible after he pushed through changes to the constitution.
While Rajapaksa remains generally popular with majority Sinhalese voters after overseeing the end of a 37-year war against Tamil separatists in 2009, critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian.
“The country is heading toward a dictatorship,” said Sirisena, who also accused the president of nepotism.
“The entire economy and every aspect of society is controlled by one family,” he said in reference to the president’s brothers who include the speaker of parliament Chamal Rajapakse.
“Corruption is rampant, there is no rule of law,” he added.
Although the exact election date has yet to be announced, it is widely expected to be held in the second week of January.


Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

Updated 58 min 4 sec ago
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Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

  • The threat came as US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process
  • Khalilzad is meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process

KABUL: The Taliban said on Tuesday they would call off peace talks with the US if its troops were not pulled out of Afghanistan. The threat came as the US special envoy landed in Kabul.

Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process.

Last month, it was reported that President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of thousands of troops. 

But there has been speculation the US wants to keep some military bases in Afghanistan, and that it is pushing the Taliban to hold direct talks with Kabul.

The Taliban has objected to government involvement in its meetings with Khalilzad and wants foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.

The armed group said the US must pursue the peace talks with “sincere intentions” or it would be forced to stall all talks and negotiations until its “unlawful pressures and maneuvering” ended. 

“The United States agreed during the Doha meeting in November to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and prevent Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the upcoming meeting,” the Taliban said, accusing the US of “backing out from that agenda and unilaterally adding new subjects.”

The US Embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad was meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

His arrival in Kabul followed stops in India, the UAE and China.

Mohammad Akbari, one of those at the meeting, said Khalilzad had expressed optimism about his efforts and regional cooperation but had not revealed why he was so hopeful.

Khalilzad later tweeted about the “good session” in Kabul.

“We discussed the peace process & all agree that progress depends on Afghans sitting with each other, negotiating a future for all Afghan people,” he said.

The US Embassy said the goal was to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen “enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law.” 

Ahmad Zia Rafat, a political science professor, said peace talks in a normal country faced ups and downs but there would be more hurdles when it came to Afghanistan because of the war’s complexity. 

“We had 40 years of war so one should not expect a quick resolution of the crisis. The first priority for peace is for Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle their historical differences,” he told Arab News.

“If you have consensus in a realistic manner between these two countries, then you are depriving the Taliban from a key supporter, long believed to be Pakistan. Then you can forge consensus in the region and reintegrate the Taliban in the political mainstream.”