Modi visits Lanka’s Tamil heartland

Updated 15 March 2015
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Modi visits Lanka’s Tamil heartland

JAFFNA: Narendra Modi visited Jaffna on Saturday, making a highly symbolic first trip by an Indian prime minister to Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged northern Tamil heartland after urging greater autonomy for the island’s largest minority.
The Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka’s far north was worst hit by the country’s 37-year civil war that killed at least 100,000 people, mostly Tamils, and remains heavily militarised.
Officially, Modi was there to launch construction of a cultural center funded by India and formally hand over thousands of houses to families made destitute by decades of war.
But his visit was also a demonstration of regional superpower India’s support for Sri Lanka’s Tamils, who share close cultural and religious ties with those in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
On Friday he held talks with Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena and urged the government to fully implement a 1987 constitutional provision giving Tamils greater autonomy in the majority-Sinhalese nation.
“Sri Lanka has lived through decades of tragic violence and conflict,” Modi said on Friday.
“You have successfully defeated terrorism and brought the conflict to an end. You now stand at a moment of historic opportunity to win the hearts and heal the wounds across all sections of society.”
India has long supported greater autonomy for the minority group, but Tamil leaders said Modi’s comments were particularly strong.
Sirisena came to power in January promising ethnic reconciliation and accountability for alleged war crimes committed by security forces under the command of former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The United Nations has said it is encouraged by his government’s commitment to ethnic reconciliation and accountability for the alleged atrocities committed in the final stages of the war that ended in May 2009.
The UN Human Rights Council this year delayed releasing a report on alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan forces to give the new government time to establish a credible domestic mechanism to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed.
But the UN has also urged the government to immediately release Tamil detainees and demilitarise former conflict areas to build confidence.
Hundreds of Tamils are believed to be in custody without trial, while the military still occupies large amounts of land belonging to Tamils.
Modi, who called Sri Lanka a “paradise on earth” during a banquet Sirisena hosted on Friday night, will return to Delhi on Saturday after a two-day visit to the Indian Ocean island.
On Friday he pledged $1.81 billion in financial assistance to Sri Lanka, which had turned to China for economic aid under former strongman Rajapaksa’s decade-long rule.


Head of Qatari opposition to launch community debate center in London

Updated 28 min 49 sec ago
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Head of Qatari opposition to launch community debate center in London

​LONDON: Khalid Al-Hail, spokesperson of the Qatari Opposition Movement, announced on Sunday the launch of his Majlis (Arab-styled Community Debate Center) in London, with the inauguration ceremony expected later this month.
​“I believe it is a great idea to launch this Majlis; where people can informally meet within an intellectually-inspiring and friendly atmosphere, to discuss, debate and exchange views and ideas on various political, strategic, and social issues.” said Al-Hail.
​“What’s more, I believe this initiative will be paramount in bringing together the British and Arabs residing in this country together, and help foster relations and accomplish a better mutual understanding, and strengthen the values of peaceful co-existence and tolerance.” Al-Hail added.

​“We also aim to enlighten the Qatari case, and introduce the views, values, and endeavours of the Qatari Opposition, in addition to creating a platform for constructive networking between Qataris and Arabs on the one side, and British experts and public opinion makers,” Al-Hail said.
​He also said “to achieve those goals, we will carry out various daily activities with live coverage, including speeches delivered by experts followed by Q&A sessions, presentations, documentaries, and round-table discussions.”
The Qatari Opposition Movement is a political movement striving for a peaceful change of the Qatari regime, and for a constitutional monarchy that embraces the time-honored values of the Qatari people, establishes a rule of law and institutions, and democracy in the country.