Sri Lanka opposition faces bullets ahead of key vote

Updated 04 January 2015
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Sri Lanka opposition faces bullets ahead of key vote

COLOMBO: Gunmen opened fire at an opposition rally in Sri Lanka, marking an escalation of violence ahead of next week’s crucial presidential elections, party officials and police said.
Unidentified attackers fired from a jeep as the main opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena was leaving the meeting in his home constituency of Polonnaruwa district, his office said.
A party official said Sirisena was unhurt but a bystander was injured, while a vehicle was also damaged. Police sources said an investigation was underway, but no arrests had been made.
The latest attack, by far the worst targeting the opposition in the run-up to the January 8 election, came a day after a stone-throwing attack injured supporters of Sirisena elsewhere in the island.
Campaign-related violence has escalated across Sri Lanka as President Mahinda Rajapakse fights an unexpectedly tough battle to remain in power, poll monitors said.
The private Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) monitoring group said it had received 1,073 complaints since campaigning got underway in early December.
Police said they had received a much smaller number of complaints, but that 130 arrests had been made.
A deputy minister and 13 other elected representatives are among those who have been arrested in connection with 245 complaints of violence, police spokesman Ajith Rohana said.
CaFFE said the increasing violence was well organized and target the opposition, which is mounting a serious challenge against two-term incumbent Rajapakse.
“We are seeing a trend of increasing violence,” CaFFE director Keerthi Tennakoon said. “The violence is well organized. It is almost always directed against the opposition’s campaign.”
Rajapaksa’s main rival Sirisena had a narrow escape when stones and rocks were thrown at a political rally outside Colombo Friday night, but some 20 of his supporters were injured, the party said.
Police spokesman Rohana said two men had been arrested in connection with Friday’s stone throwing and they were looking for four more suspects.
Sirisena blamed pro-government elements for unleashing the attack on his rally.
Sri Lanka’s External Affairs ministry on Friday warned the European Union not to interfere in elections after Colombo-based ambassadors urged the government to ensure peaceful polls — a sentiment echoed by UN chief Ban Ki-moon in a separate statement earlier this week.
Previous elections have been marred by violence, particularly against Tamil and Muslim voters, the opposition’s major support base.
Sirisena left his health portfolio and quit Rajapakse’s administration in November to become the main opposition candidate.
Local media reports say that the two men are currently neck and neck, although Rajapakse was considered the clear front-runner when he called the vote two years ahead of schedule.
The ruling party’s vote sank 21 points at a local election in September, suggesting that the president’s own popularity may be waning five years after he was credited with ending a separatist war that had claimed 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.


May tours Europe in desperate bid to save Brexit deal

Updated 44 sec ago
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May tours Europe in desperate bid to save Brexit deal

  • May faced criticism from all sides in parliament over provisions in the EU withdrawal agreement concerning Northern Ireland
  • Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now facing calls to table a no-confidence vote
BRUSSELS: Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May was met with sympathy but firm refusals on a desperate tour of European capitals on Tuesday, with EU leaders ruling out any renegotiation of the Brexit deal.
A day after she postponed a crucial vote on the deal in the British parliament, May said she was meeting EU counterparts in an attempt to receive “reassurances.”
May had breakfast with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague before heading to Berlin for lunch with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and then traveled on to Brussels.
After meeting May, Merkel told lawmakers of her CDU/CSU bloc that she saw “no way to change” the agreement, said sources at the MPs’ meeting.
May faced criticism from all sides in parliament over provisions in the EU withdrawal agreement concerning Northern Ireland, which she hopes could persuade her rebellious Conservative party to support it.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said ahead of meeting May that he was “surprised” at being asked for more talks since EU leaders had given their approval to the deal at an extraordinary summit on November 25.
“The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible, it’s the only deal possible,” he told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation but of course there is room, if used intelligently, to give further clarification and further interpretations.”
MPs in the House of Commons were due to vote on the deal on Tuesday night, but May deferred it on Monday, admitting she expected to lose by a “significant margin.”
Her spokesman said Tuesday the vote would be rescheduled before January 21 — just months before Britain leaves the EU on March 29.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now facing calls to table a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, but is holding off as the party believes May is likely to win.
This hesitation has caused tensions with the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has said it wants Labour to table a no-confidence motion on Tuesday.
Euroskeptic MPs in May’s Conservative party have also repeated calls for her to be replaced, with one warning it was time to “govern or quit.”
EU President Donald Tusk, who met May in Brussels, has called a meeting of the other 27 EU leaders on Thursday to discuss the latest Brexit developments.
They were already due to attend a European Council summit with May on Thursday and Friday, which the British prime minister is expected to use to further press her case.


Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said his government ruled out changes to the wording of the withdrawal agreement, but said there could be “a political declaration coming from a European Council.”
“The Irish government doesn’t have an issue with providing reassurance if that’s helpful,” he told national broadcaster RTE.
May faces strong opposition over a clause in the Brexit deal designed to keep open the border with Ireland.
The so-called backstop risks tying Britain into a customs union with the EU for years after it leaves the bloc — far from the clean break that euroskeptics want.
But it is far from clear what she can achieve.
One of her ministers, Martin Callanan, said in Brussels on Tuesday that Britain is seeking “additional legal reassurances that UK cannot be permanently trapped in the Irish backstop.”
Many Britons have been left scratching their heads after the latest political developments.
In Keighley, a town in Yorkshire in northern England that voted in favor of Brexit in a 2016 referendum, residents expressed skepticism about May’s latest moves.
“Ridiculous, absolutely,” one resident, Tony Finney, said when asked about the delay, calling it a “fiasco.”
Mary Wilson said: “I believe that we should come out. I think she’s just wasting her time running backwards and forward to Europe because she’ll not get what she wants.”
Even if no deal is secured, Britain is still on course to leave the EU on March 29 — a scenario the government has warned will be hugely damaging to the economy.
The decision to defer the vote sent the pound plunging.
Tusk said Thursday’s EU meeting would cover no-deal plans, while May’s cabinet was also due to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
France’s minister for European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, said the possibility of no deal was “not unlikely,” adding: “I’m very worried.”