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.”


Israel joins US, others in rejecting UN migration pact

The UN’s Global Compact for Migration is set to be adopted during a conference in Morocco on December 10-11. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
Updated 21 November 2018
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Israel joins US, others in rejecting UN migration pact

  • The US quit talks on the pact last December
  • Its final text was agreed in July after 18 months of negotiations and lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday Israel would join the US and other countries in rejecting a UN migration pact set to be adopted in December.

“I have instructed the Foreign Ministry to announce that Israel will not accede to, and will not sign, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“We are committed to guarding our borders against illegal migrants. This is what we have done and this is what we will continue to do.”

The UN’s Global Compact for Migration, aimed at boosting cooperation to address the world’s growing number of migrants, is set to be adopted during a conference in Morocco on December 10-11.

Its final text was agreed in July after 18 months of negotiations and lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and better manage migratory flows as the number of people on the move worldwide has increased to 250 million, or 3 percent of the world’s population.

The US quit talks on the pact last December, Hungary's anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban rejected it in July and Austria followed suit in October.

The Czech Republic said it will reject the pact and Bulgaria last week said it might follow suit.

Israel’s government has come under political pressure over the presence of some 42,000 African migrants, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, and has sought to expel many of them.

Most of the migrants arrived in Israel after 2007, mainly through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Security along the once porous border has since been significantly tightened with the construction of a barrier fence.

Many of the migrants settled in poor neighborhoods in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, the country’s economic capital.