Israel’s Netanyahu in Russia to meet Putin ahead of polls

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2019

Israel’s Netanyahu in Russia to meet Putin ahead of polls

  • Netanyahu is on a campaign to maintain his status as the country’s longest-serving prime minister
  • Russia’s Sochi come days after his controversial vow to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley if re-elected

MOSCOW: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russia on Thursday to meet President Vladimir Putin, as he looks to convey the image of a statesman ahead of an election on September 17.
Netanyahu is on a campaign to maintain his status as the country’s longest-serving prime minister and the talks in Russia’s Sochi come days after his controversial vow to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley if re-elected.
Netanyahu has sought to highlight his relations with world leaders, including Putin and US President Donald Trump, and is on his third visit to Russia this year.
“This is a very important trip,” he told journalists before his departure.
Meetings in Russia are meant to prevent clashes in Syria and “to ensure Israel’s security, in the face of attempts by Iran and its proxies to attack us,” he said.
Prior to meeting Putin, Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
“Every meeting with you is very important,” Netanyahu said.
Moscow on Wednesday condemned Netanyahu’s threat to annex the Jordan Valley, with the foreign ministry saying it could lead to a “sharp escalation of tensions” and undermine peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu previously said he and Putin would discuss Iran’s activity in Syria, where Israel had carried out strikes against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
Russia, Iran and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah back Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war, and Russia and Israel have established a hotline to avoid clashes.
That did not prevent an incident last year when Syrian air defense accidentally downed a Russian plane during an Israeli raid, with the Kremlin blaming Israel.
Speaking to Russian news website RBK, Netanyahu said the only thing that had prevented Israel and Russia from clashing in Syria was “direct contact with President Putin, a connection which is of great value to me.”
“Relations between Israel and Russia today are better than ever,” he said in the interview published in Russian.
Netanyahu is looking to pull votes away from his rival Avigdor Lieberman of the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party who relies on support from Israelis with roots in the former Soviet Union.
The election was called after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government after polls in April. He met Putin prior to that election as well.


‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

Updated 17 November 2019

‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism
  • His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists

COLOMBO: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who spearheaded the brutal crushing of the Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, stormed to victory Sunday in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, seven months after Islamist extremist attacks killed 269 people.
Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism in the Buddhist-majority country following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks blamed on a homegrown militant group.
His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists and possibly some in the international community following the 2005-15 presidency of his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mahinda, with Gotabaya effectively running the security forces, ended a 37-year civil war with Tamil separatists. His decade in power was also marked by alleged rights abuses, murky extra-judicial killings and closer ties with China.
Gotabaya, a retired lieutenant-colonel, 70, nicknamed the “Terminator” by his own family, romped to victory with 51.9 percent of the vote, results from the two-thirds of votes counted so far showed.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” said student Devni, 22, one of around 30 people who gathered outside Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence. “I am so excited, he is the president we need.”
Rajapaksa’s main rival, the moderate Sajith Premadasa of the ruling party, trailed on 42.3 percent. The 52-year-old conceded the race and congratulated Rajapaksa.
On Sunday three cabinet members resigned — including Finance Minister Mangalar Samaraweera.
The final result was expected later on Sunday with Rajapaksa due to be sworn in on Monday. Turnout was over 80 percent.
Premadasa had strong support in minority Tamil areas but a poor showing in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese heartland, a core support base where Rajapaksa won some two-thirds of the vote.
Saturday’s poll was the first popularity test of the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe’s administration failed to prevent the April attacks despite prior and detailed intelligence warnings from India, according a parliamentary investigation.
Premadasa also offered better security and a pledge to make a former war general, Sarath Fonseka, his national security chief, projecting himself as a victim seeking to crush terrorism.
He is the son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa who fell victim to a Tamil rebel suicide bomber in May 1993.
But Gotabaya is adored by the Sinhalese majority and the powerful Buddhist clergy for how he and Mahinda ended the war in 2009, when 40,000 Tamil civilians allegedly perished at the hands of the army.
Under his brother, Gotabaya was defense secretary and effectively ran the security forces, allegedly overseeing “death squads” that bumped off rivals, journalists and others. He denies the allegations.
This makes the brothers detested and feared among many Tamils, who make up 15 percent of the population. Some in the Muslim community, who make up 10 percent, are also fearful of Gotabaya, having faced days of mob violence in the wake of the April attacks.
Under Mahinda, Sri Lanka also borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects and even allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo in 2014, alarming Western countries as well as India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday that India looked forward to “deepening the close and fraternal ties... and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region.”
The projects ballooned Sri Lanka’s debts and many turned into white elephants — such as an airport in the south devoid of airlines — mired in corruption allegations.
Unlike in 2015 when there were bomb attacks and shootings, this election was relatively peaceful by the standards of Sri Lanka’s fiery politics.
The only major incident was on Saturday when gunmen fired at two vehicles in a convoy of at least 100 buses taking Muslim voters to cast ballots. Two people were injured.
According to the Election Commission the contest was, however, the worst ever for hate speech and misinformation.