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 police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

Updated 14 December 2018
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French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

PARIS: France will deploy tens of thousands of police nationwide and around 8,000 in Paris on Saturday to handle a fifth weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests, although the movement appears to be losing steam after concessions by President Emmanuel Macron.
The chief of police in Paris said concerns remained about violent groups infiltrating the protests. Anti-riot officers will protect landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and prevent people getting close to the presidential palace.
“We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” police chief Michel Delpuech told RTL radio.
He expected businesses in the capital to be less affected this weekend after heavy disruption over the past three weeks when major stores shut, hotels suffered cancelations and tourists stayed away during the usually busy run-up to Christmas.
Nicknamed “Acte V” of the protests, the yellow vest demonstrators will take to the streets this weekend as France recovers from an unrelated attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, when a gunman shot and killed three people and wounded several others.
Hundreds of police officers were redeployed to Strasbourg to search for the gunman, who was shot dead in an exchange of fire on Thursday evening.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said it was time for the yellow vests to scale down their protests and accept they had achieved their aims. Police officers also deserved a break, he added.
“I’d rather have the police force doing their real job, chasing criminals and combating the terrorism threat, instead of securing roundabouts where a few thousand people keep a lot of police busy,” he said.
TOLL ON THE ECONOMY
Attractions such as the Louvre museum and Opera Garnier will be open this weekend, as will luxury department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Last Saturday they were closed as thousands of sometimes violent protesters tore through the city. The previous weekend the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized, cars were overturned and torched and businesses smashed up.
The protests have taken a toll on the economy, with output in the last quarter of the year set to be half initial projections, while Macron’s concessions are likely to push the budget deficit above an EU agreed limit.
The yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes and then grew into an anti-Macron alliance, appears to have calmed since the president announced a series of measures to help the working poor.
However, many people wearing the high-visibility motorists’ safety jackets which are the symbol of the protests were manning barricades outside cities on Friday.
After heavy criticism for not being seen to respond to the protesters’ complaints, Macron made a TV address this week during which he said he understood their concerns and acknowledged the need for a different approach.
As well canceling fuel tax increases that were due to kick in next month, Macron said he would increase the minimum wage by 100 euros a month from January and reduce taxes for poorer pensioners, among other measures.
Since the first yellow vest protests on Nov. 17, supporters have kept up a steady stream of dissent, although the numbers joining marches have steadily fallen. ($1 = 0.8857 euros)