Sri Lanka Tamils celebrate toppling ‘known devil’

Updated 09 January 2015
0

Sri Lanka Tamils celebrate toppling ‘known devil’

JAFFNA: Sri Lanka’s Tamils on Friday celebrated their key role in ousting Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose 11th-hour charm offensive and exhortation to vote for “the known devil” was too little, too late.
Rajapaksa was strongly resented among Tamils in Sri Lanka after ordering a brutal military suppression of a separatist insurgency in which thousands of civilians are said to have died.
With the majority Sinhalese vote split between the president and his successful challenger Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka’s largest minority group emerged as kingmakers in the polls.
“We were the deciding factor at this election,” said school teacher Kanchana Keethiswaran in the northern Jaffna peninsula, scene of the worst of the violence in the decades-long conflict.
“We hope the new president does not forget that he won only because of our (Tamil) votes.”
Rajapaksa had traveled to Jaffna last week for a campaign rally, as the extent of support for the opposition among majority Sinhalese became clear.
During a campaign rally he told residents that Sirisena was a stranger to the region, while he had traveled there at least 11 times after first becoming president in 2005.
“The devil you know is better than the unknown angel,” he said in Sinhala, speaking through a translator. “I am the known devil, so please vote for me.”
The somewhat mangled metaphor appears to have rung true for many Tamils, who came out in unusually large numbers to vote for Sirisena despite some reports of intimidation.
More than a million Tamils endorsed Sirisena, who took a 51.28-percent share of the vote nationwide to secure the presidency.
The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), backed Sirisena’s candidacy and said it was grateful to its supporters for electing their choice for the top job.
But it made clear it expected him to address the issue of greater autonomy for Tamil areas of the country — something that may prove a challenge given that his diverse support base includes Sinhalese nationalists.
“The new president Sirisena has to address urgently many grave issues the country faces, including an honorable resolution of the national question,” the TNA said, in a reference to Tamil autonomy.
The Tamil Tigers ran Jaffna as a de facto state for nearly five years until they were dislodged in 1995 and the area has been heavily militarised since the war ended in 2009.
Tamils in the arid peninsula strongly oppose the large military presence in the region, which they see as an occupation.
International rights groups have also asked Colombo to withdraw its troops, a demand rejected by the government.
Retired Tamil civil servant S. Sebanayagam, 73, said Tamils had voted for “change” — the campaign slogan of Sirisena, who has promised to investigate war time rights abuses, a highly emotive issue.
Rajapaksa refused to acknowledge that his troops killed any civilians while defeating Tamil rebels in a bloody offensive in May 2009. In all, around 100,000 people were killed in the conflict between 1972 and 2009.
Rajapaksa had spent billions of dollars to rebuild infrastructure in the former war zones, but failed to win popular support.
“We voted to get our dignity back,” said a Tamil journalist.
“We may have good roads and a new railway line, but what we want is to live in peace.”


British caver says he approached by US, British lawyers over Musk’s comments

Updated 2 min 58 sec ago
0

British caver says he approached by US, British lawyers over Musk’s comments

MAE SAI, Thailand: A British caver who helped rescue 12 boys from a Thai cave said on Tuesday that he has been approached by British and American lawyers and will seek legal advice after Tesla CEO Elon Musk directed abuse at him on Twitter.
“I’ve been approached by British lawyers, American lawyers. I haven’t decided what to do next yet,” Vern Unsworth told Reuters in Mae Sai town in Chiang Rai province, about 3 km (2 miles) from the cave where the boys and their coach were trapped for 18 days.
However, Unsworth has said he is considering legal action against the billionaire entrepreneur, who is chief executive of the electric car maker Tesla Inc.
“I can’t let it go. There’s too much out there already,” Unsworth told Reuters in an interview. Asked which law firm he would hire, he said: “I don’t know yet. I have to take advice.”
Unsworth declined to identify who had approached him.
Tesla spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Musk could not be reached for comment.
Musk’s spat with Unsworth started last week, after rescue teams rejected Musk’s offer of a mini-submarine created by his rocket company SpaceX to help extract the youth soccer team and the coach from the labyrinth of partly flooded passages.
“It just has absolutely no chance of working,” CNN quoted Unsworth as saying about the submarine.
Musk responded on Twitter on Sunday saying: “We will make one (video) of the mini-sub/pod going all the way to Cave 5 no problem. Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it.”
The Tweet was later deleted.
Unsworth said he hadn’t flatly denied Musk’s accusation because he was waiting for legal advice.
Asked why he thought Musk would make such a comment about him, he said: “I don’t know.”
A police officer in the Chiang Rai, where Unsworth has lived for seven years, said that no charges or complaints had ever been filed against Unsworth. The officer declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

FAMILY UPSET
Unsworth, 63, said he hadn’t actually met Musk face to face when Musk visited the cave during the rescue.
He said he felt sorry that the squabble with Musk had detracted from the successful end to the rescue mission.
“It’s taken a bit of the pleasure out of what’s happened, what we’ve achieved, for me anyway,” he said, adding that it had upset his ex-wife and daughter back in Britain. “It’s very much upset my daughter,” the caver said, his voice breaking.
Shares of Tesla Inc. fell more than 3.5 percent on Monday, knocking almost $2 billion off the company’s market value.
Several analysts and investors, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that Musk’s comments were adding to their concerns that his public statements were distracting him from Tesla’s main business of producing electric cars.
The “Wild Boar” team were rescued last week by a group of foreign and Thai divers through a network of narrow passages and chambers. The boys, aged 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach are expected to leave hospital on Wednesday.
Unsworth was the first foreigner called to the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand after relatives noticed the boys had not come out after setting out to explore the cave complex on June 23 following soccer practice.
He said he has lost count of how many times he has been inside the 10-km (6-mile) long Tham Luang cave.
“It has been my third home for the past six years,” he said.
Two British divers who were asked by Unsworth to join the mission were the first to discover the boys.
Unsworth said he brought his knowledge about the cave to the rescue mission but added that he “no idea” what the diving conditions were like because he is not a cave diver.
He said he will fly from Thailand to London on Thursday, where he will stay for around three weeks.