Sri Lanka Tamils celebrate toppling ‘known devil’

Updated 09 January 2015
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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.”


Putin slams ‘ungrounded accusations’ after UK poisonings

Updated 53 min 50 sec ago
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Putin slams ‘ungrounded accusations’ after UK poisonings

WASHINGTON: President Vladimir Putin accused Britain Monday of making baseless allegations against Russia after a former Soviet spy was among four people found poisoned by a nerve agent in southern England.
Asked in a Fox News interview about the British government’s assertion that Moscow was behind the Novichok attack on the former spy Sergei Skripal, Putin said London had not provided any evidence to back up their claim.
“We would like to get documentary evidence but nobody gives it to us,” Putin, speaking through a translator, told the US network after a summit with President Donald Trump in Finland.
“It’s the same thing with the accusations of meddling in the election process in America,” he added in reference to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election which was won by Trump.
Putin suggested the case could be driven by domestic issues in Britain, saying “Nobody wants to look into these.”
“We just see the ungrounded accusations — why is it done this way? Why should our relationship be made worse by this?“
Former Russian double agent Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed in Salisbury on March 4 after being exposed to Novichok. Both have since recovered.
Then on June 30 Charlie Rowley and his partner Dawn Sturgess fell ill not far from the Skripal attack after being exposed to the same nerve agent. Sturgess died on July 8.
Russia has strongly denied poisoning the Skripals, sparking a diplomatic row that has led to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between Britain and its allies and Russia.
Police have not been able to establish whether the Novichok that Rowley and Sturgess were exposed to was from the same batch used against the Skripals but have said that a possible connection is their main line of inquiry.
Rowley remains seriously ill in hospital but his brother has told the BBC that the 45-year-old fell ill after picking up a discarded perfume bottle.
“What kind of bottle? What is the chemical formula? Who’s got it?” Putin said in his interview.