Sri Lanka celebrates end of war, blocks commemorations

Sri Lanka celebrates end of war, blocks commemorations
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Sri Lanka celebrates end of war, blocks commemorations
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Updated 20 May 2014

Sri Lanka celebrates end of war, blocks commemorations

Sri Lanka celebrates end of war, blocks commemorations

MATARA, Sri Lanka: President Mahinda Rajapaksa led celebrations at a major victory parade Sunday to mark the fifth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist war, as commemorations for its victims were blocked.
As most top envoys of Western nations stayed away from the parade, a defiant Rajapakse insisted he would not bow to pressure from foreign critics who are pushing him to investigate claims that tens of thousands of people died in the final stages of the conflict.
"Some governments are blind, deaf and dumb. They are opposed to our celebrating this victory," Rajapakse said in a televised speech from Matara, his birthplace in the Sinhalese heartland of the island's south.
"We are not celebrating victory in a war, we are celebrating peace. Irrespective of who opposes this, or who stays away, we will always commemorate this day," he added.
The 37-year conflict effectively ended on May 18, 2009, when troops killed the Tamil Tiger rebels' supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in a brutal assault on the northern town of Mullaittivu.
The UN has estimated that at least 100,000 people died in the entire conflict, about 40,000 of them in the final months of fighting.
Rajapaksa however has denied any civilians were killed in the finale and is resisting calls for an international inquiry into claims that troops killed thousands of civilians who had been herded into no-fire zones.
His administration has also ordered a ban on all commemorations this weekend for victims of the conflict, which was one of the bloodiest in Asia's post-colonial history.
Police on Sunday blocked Tamils from going to a temple in the town of Keerimalai, in the battle-scarred Jaffna peninsula, and the main state-run blood bank refused donations fearing it was linked to remembrance of war victims, a Tamil politician said.
Eswarapatham Saravanapavan, a Tamil lawmaker who also runs a newspaper in Jaffna, said that while he managed to enter the temple, civilians were prevented by police from attending a service to bless the dead.
"The temple had prepared alms for 1,000 people but there were only five, including myself because of the security blockade," Saravanapavan said by telephone.
He said police and troops obstructed him at many places.
"Within our newspaper office we had a remembrance for those who died in the conflict," Saravanapavan said, adding that the blood bank had refused to accept donations from his staff Sunday. Many people donate blood as a sign of invoking merit for deceased loved ones.
Police on Friday also broke up a remembrance service that was being held in council offices in Jaffna.
Around 7,500 troops took part in Sunday's parade which featured tanks, gunboats and military aircraft.
Canada, a strong critic of Sri Lanka's war record, had announced its top envoy in Colombo would boycott Sunday's parade while the top diplomats from other Western powers, including the United States and former colonial power Britain, were conspicuous by their absence.
Canadian High Commissioner (ambassador) Shelley Whiting said in a statement to a local newspaper Friday that the parade was inappropriate because the government should be concentrating on reconciliation.
"Five years after the end of the conflict, the time has arrived for Sri Lanka to move past wartime discourse and to start working seriously towards reconciliation," she said.
Prabhakaran's Tigers, who were notorious for their suicide bombings, had fought for a separate homeland for Tamils who account for around 10 percent of the island's population.


India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
Updated 10 May 2021

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
  • The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU: Calls grew for India to impose a nationwide lockdown as new coronavirus cases and deaths held close to record highs on Monday, increasing pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks, taking India’s tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths.
As many hospitals grapple with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds while morgues and crematoriums overflow, experts have said India’s actual figures could be far higher than reported.
Sunday’s 1.47 million tests for COVID-19 were this month’s lowest yet, data from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research showed. The figure compared with a daily average of 1.7 million for the first eight days of May.
The number of positive results from the tests was not immediately clear, however.
Many states have imposed strict lockdowns over the last month while others have placed curbs on movement and shut cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as he did during the first wave of infections last year.
He is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies during the past two months even as cases surged.
“A failure of governance of epic and historic proportions,” Vipin Narang, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
On Sunday, top White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said he had advised Indian authorities they needed to shut down.
“You’ve got to shut down,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” television show. “I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down.”
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also called for a “complete, well-planned, pre-announced” lockdown.
New Delhi, the capital, entered a fourth week of lockdown, with tougher curbs such as the shutdown of the suburban rail network, while residents scrambled for scarce hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
“This is not the time to be lenient,” Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.
“This phase is so tough, this wave is so dangerous, so many people are dying...the priority at this hour is to save lives,” he said in a televised address.
Late on Sunday, the northern state of Uttarakhand said it would impose curfew from Tuesday until May 18, just days after mass religious gatherings held in the state became virus super spreading events.
Shops selling fruits, vegetables and dairy items will stay open for some hours in the morning, while malls, gyms, theaters, bars and liquor shops are among the enterprises that will be shut, the government said.
Organizers of the popular and lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament conceded the remaining games will have to be played overseas after they suspended the contest over the virus this month.
Global support, in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical gear, has poured in.
On Monday, US company Eli Lilly and Co. said it signed licensing deals with Indian drugmakers, such as Cipla Ltd., Lupin and Sun Pharma to make and sell its arthritis drug baricitinib for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
India’s drug regulator has approved the drug for restricted emergency use in combination with remdesivir for hospitalized adult sufferers in need of supplemental oxygen.
By Sunday, the world’s largest vaccine-producing nation had fully vaccinated just over 34.3 million, or only 2.5 percent, of its population of about 1.35 billion, government data shows.


Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
Updated 10 May 2021

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
  • Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality

LONDON: Britain on Monday was set to announce a further easing of its coronavirus lockdown, joining several European nations in gradually reopening their economies, but India remained in the grip of a devastating outbreak.
Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality, but the virus is still surging in many countries and concerns are growing about global vaccine inequality.
The pandemic has claimed close to 3.3 million lives worldwide and Britain has the highest death toll in Europe, but its successful vaccination program has allowed the authorities to start relaxing curbs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to announce the latest measures – effective May 17 – in a press conference on Monday, including the reopening of indoor seating in pubs and restaurants.
When asked during a BBC interview Sunday if hugging would be allowed, senior minister Michael Gove said: “Without prejudice to a broader review of social distancing... friendly contact, intimate contact between friends and family is something that we want to see restored.”
Cinemas are also expected to reopen, as well as some large indoor venues after the government held several pilot events – including a rock concert – to test safety measures.
This follows Spain’s lifting of a state of emergency in place since October, allowing people to travel between regions.
“It’s like New Year’s,” said 28-year-old Oriol Corbella in Barcelona, where the end of the curfew was met with shouts, applause and music.
In Germany, people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were exempt from many restrictions from Sunday after the government passed new legislation.
And Cyprus on Monday will exit a third partial lockdown with a new coronavirus “safety pass” system to allow people to move freely.


Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
Updated 10 May 2021

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
  • The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday
  • The Afghan government has not yet responded to the Taliban announcement

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban Monday announced a three-day cease-fire for the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday this week marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday. The Muslim calendar follows lunar cycles and the Eid holiday depends on the sighting of the new moon.
Justs hours after the pending cease-fire was announced, a bus in southern Zabul province struck a roadside mine killing 11 people, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aeian. At least 24 more people on the bus were injured. Improvised explosive devices litter the countryside and have been used extensively by the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Taliban fighters have been ordered to stop all offensives, “to provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere to our compatriots … so that they may celebrate this joyous occasion with a greater peace of mind.”
The cease-fire announcement comes amid heightened violence in the country and follows a brutal attack on a girls’ school on Saturday that killed as many 60 people, most of them students between 11-15 years old. The death toll from the three explosions continues to climb.
The Taliban denied any responsibility and condemned the attack, which occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in the west of the capital.
Attacks in the area are most often claimed by the Afghan Islamic State affiliate, but no group yet has claimed the attack on the school.
The cease-fire announcement also comes as the US and NATO are withdrawing the last of their military forces. The final 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces will leave by Sept. 11 at the latest.
The Afghan government has not yet responded to the cease-fire announcement.


US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party
Updated 10 May 2021

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party

US man kills 6 people and himself at Colorado birthday party
  • Gunman fortunately did not fire on children who were present inside a trailer at a mobile home park
  • The massacre was the latest in a resurgence of mass shootings in the US

COLORADO SPRINGS, US: A man fatally shot six people including his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself early on Sunday at a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but did not fire on traumatized children who were present inside a trailer at a mobile home park.
Police arrived to find six people dead plus a seventh who was seriously wounded and died after being taken to a hospital, a police statement said.
“The suspect, a boyfriend of one of the female victims, drove to the residence, walked inside and began shooting people at the party before taking his own life,” said the statement released by the Colorado Springs Police Department.
“Friends, family, and children were gathered inside the trailer to celebrate when the shooting occurred,” the statement said.
A motive has yet to be determined.
The shooting happened within the Canterbury Manufactured Home Community, a mobile home park of some 470 trailers and largely Latino residents on the southeast side of town, near the Colorado Springs airport, about 70 miles (110 km) south of Denver.
Police blocked off the area, where a mobile crime lab was parked near the home. A small group of adults stood nearby, some of them audibly sobbing, along with a small child.
Freddie Marquez, 33, said his mother-in-law was one of the victims and that he was at the party but left around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Some time after midnight, he received a call from the son of one of the women at the party, who was crying on the phone.
“Somebody came in and shot everybody,” Marquez said, relating what he had been told on the phone.
The Denver Post quoted neighbor Yenifer Reyes as saying she was awakened by the sound of gunfire.
“I thought it was a thunderstorm. Then I started hearing sirens,” Reyes told the newspaper.
She said she saw police take children out of the trailer and put them into a squad car.
“They were crying hysterically,” Reyes said.

Spate of mass shootings
The massacre was the latest in a resurgence of mass shootings in the United States after such occurrences seemed to recede during the height of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
Among the incidents this year was one in Boulder, Colorado, where a 21-year-old man has been charged with killing 10 people in a March 22 shooting spree at a supermarket about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Denver. That came less than a week after another 21-year-old gunman was accused of killing eight people at three Atlanta-area day spas.
Colorado was also the state where two other deadly rampages took place, both in the Denver area: the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School that killed 15 people including the two perpetrators, and the 2012 shooting in an Aurora movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded about 70. The Aurora shooter is serving a life sentence.
The recent shootings have revived the gun control debate, with Democratic President Joe Biden calling them a “national embarrassment” and calling for new legislation from Congress.
But he faces serious opposition from gun rights advocates including Republicans and some Democrats who cite the US Constitution’s protection of gun ownership rights.
Police said they withheld releasing details of the shooting for several hours “in order to properly and respectfully notify family members of the deceased and ensure support was in place.”
The names of the victims will be released later, the statement said.


South Sudan president dissolves parliament

South Sudan president dissolves parliament
Updated 10 May 2021

South Sudan president dissolves parliament

South Sudan president dissolves parliament
  • Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust

JUBA: South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has dissolved parliament, opening the way for lawmakers from opposing sides of the country’s civil war to be appointed under a 2018 peace accord. Kiir’s decision was announced on public television but no date was given as to when the new parliament will begin working.

The setting up of a new legislative body was part of an accord signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, for years on opposition sides during the five-year civil war that left 380,000 people dead and four million displaced.

Activists and civil society groups welcomed the dissolution of parliament, saying it was long overdue but also expressing distrust.

“It is a welcome development and we hope that the dissolution (will not) also open the way to a lengthy process toward reconstituting the parliament,” Jame David Kolock, chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum.

“The civil society is getting frustrated and no longer believes that even if the parliament is reconstituted it will be a very viable parliament.”

In accordance with the 2018 accord, the new assembly will number 550 lawmakers, the majority — 332 — from Kiir’s governing SPLM party. The parliamentarians will not be elected but nominated by the different parties.

The dissolution of parliament came on the eve of a visit to the capital Juba by US special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth.

“Of particular concern to the United States is the slow implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, ongoing violence, and deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Kiir and Machar formed a coalition government on February 22, 2020 after nearly a year of delays.

However few provisions of the truce have been honored, and analysts have warned of a return to war.

The oil-rich country remains severely underdeveloped and poorly managed.

Despite the peace deal, brutal communal conflicts — often over cattle raiding — continue, with more than 1,000 killed in violence between rival communities in the last six months of 2020.