Rajapaksa ‘pressed’ army after Sri Lanka poll defeat — official

Updated 11 January 2015
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Rajapaksa ‘pressed’ army after Sri Lanka poll defeat — official

COLOMBO: Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to persuade the army chief to deploy troops when it became clear he had lost Sri Lanka’s election, a spokesman for the country’s new president said Saturday.
Rajapaksa has been widely praised for conceding defeat early on Friday, even before the last votes had been counted, when he realized that his rival Maithripala Sirisena had an unassailable lead.
But in a press conference on Saturday, a top aide to Sirisena said that Lt. Gen Daya Ratnayake, who is the head of the armed forces, had come under pressure to intervene shortly before the concession.
“The army chief was under pressure to deploy but he did not. He declined to do anything illegal,” Rajitha Senaratne, the chief spokesman for the new president, told reporters in Colombo.
“Even in the last hour, he (Rajapaksa) tried to remain in office. Only when he realized that he had no other option, he decided to go.”
There was no immediate comment from the military.
Senaratne, who is tipped to become health minister, declined to say whether the deposed president himself tried to contact the military chief or used his younger brother Gotabhaya.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has often been accused of meddling in his officially neutral role as defense secretary.
“There was a defense ministry conspiracy for Rajapaksa to remain in office. Gotabhaya had openly defied election laws and addressed election rallies,” Senaratne said, adding the new administration would put a stop to public servants dabbling in politics.
Senaratne said the defense ministry had also tried to deploy troops in the island’s former war zone and stage explosions in a bid to discourage ethnic Tamils from voting.
Despite two explosions that caused no harm, the northern region voted overwhelmingly to support Sirisena.
Rajapaksa was reviled by many members of Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic minority for allegedly ordering the brutal military suppression of a separatist insurgency in which thousands of civilians died.
Senaratne said the new Sri Lankan government had guaranteed the safety of Rajapaksa and his family after the vote, but vowed to pursue members of the former administration for human rights abuses.
“We don’t believe in revenge, but that does not mean we will not prosecute those accused of wrongdoing,” he said.
Sri Lanka has been largely immune from military meddling in politics except for a 1962 coup that failed to topple the government. Since then, there had been no direct military role in the army.
Sri Lanka’s former army chief Sarath Fonseka, who launched a failed bit to challenge president Rajapaksa at his 2010, was convicted of engaging in politics while still in uniform and jailed for 30 months.


French audit warns 840 bridges may face risk of collapse

Updated 19 August 2018
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French audit warns 840 bridges may face risk of collapse

  • The audit says says a third of the 12,000 government-maintained bridges in France need repairs
  • About 7 percent, or about 840 bridges, present a “risk of collapse” in the coming years if spending is kept at current levels

PARIS: An audit commissioned by the French government says about 840 French bridges are suffering from serious damage and at risk of collapse in the coming several years.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government had already promised new infrastructure spending, but is coming under new pressure after Tuesday’s bridge collapse in neighboring Italy that killed 43 people.
The audit, published Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, says a third of the 12,000 government-maintained bridges in France need repairs. About 7 percent, or about 840 bridges, present a “risk of collapse” in the coming years if spending is kept at current levels, the audit says.
The audit doesn’t address thousands of other French bridges maintained by private companies or local authorities, which have seen budget cuts in recent years.
The government released a summary of the audit last month, blaming previous administrations for inconsistent and inadequate road funding, and saying the growth of traffic and increasing episodes of extreme weather have worsened the problem.
The Transport Ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment Sunday. Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told broadcaster Franceinfo last week that bridge “maintenance is our priority” and announced plans for a 1 billion-euro (($1.14 billion) plan to “save the nation’s roads,” including bridges and tunnels. She reiterated plans for a new infrastructure law after the summer holidays.
The Genoa bridge collapse has shined a spotlight on road maintenance in Italy. Italian investments in roads sank most dramatically among the top five European economies after the 2008 economic crisis, never fully recovering, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.