Sri Lanka reinstates ousted prime minister

Ousted Ranil Wickremesinghe was replaced by Mahinda Rajapaksa who resigned amid the crisis. (File/AP)
Updated 16 December 2018

Sri Lanka reinstates ousted prime minister

  • The South Asian island country had plunged into instability after President Maithripala Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with Mahinda Rajapaksa
  • An official at the president’s office confirmed Wickremesinghe’s oath taking

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reinstated Sunday, his party said, ending a 51-day crisis that had paralyzed the island nation and pushed it toward debt default.
The 69-year-old leader was sworn in by President Maithripala Sirisena, who sacked him on October 26 and triggered a power struggle that brought the country’s government to a standstill.
Wickremesinghe had refused to step aside since being sacked by in late October and replaced by former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka had drifted without a functioning government for nearly two months as the rival factions jostled for power in parliament and the courts.
Sirisena had vowed to never reappoint Wickremesinghe — who he publicly castigated in speeches in recent weeks — as prime minister under his watch.
The acrimony between the two was underscored Sunday when Sirisena barred journalists from attending the swearing-in ceremony — leaving it to Wickremesinghe’s legislators to announce the appointment.
“We thank the citizens of the country who fought the illegal seizure of power and ensured that democracy was restored,” his United National Party of Sri Lanka posted on Twitter.
Sirisena’s appointee Rajapaksa was unable to govern, failing many times to muster a majority in parliament.
He was defeated six times on the floor of the legislature before being forced to step down on Saturday.
Sirisena suffered a huge setback when the highest court in the country ruled last week that he acted outside the constitution when he sacked parliament in early November.
The court also confirmed Friday that Rajapaksa and his purported cabinet could not exercise the powers of the office they held.
A spokesman for Wickremesinghe said he was expected to form a cabinet in the coming days, with priority given to the 2019 budget, without which foreign debt servicing may not be possible.
Sri Lanka had been braced for a government shutdown as parliament failed to approve spending for 2019, and ratings agencies downgraded the country’s credit rating amid fears of a sovereign debt default.


Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

Updated 01 June 2020

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

  • Peace hopes rest on virtual forum with Taliban amid virus threat

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.