Sri Lanka president proposes unity government as protests intensify

Special Sri Lanka president proposes unity government as protests intensify
People shout slogans against Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and demand that Rajapaksa family politicians step down, during a protest amid the country's economic crisis, on a main road in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 4, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 April 2022

Sri Lanka president proposes unity government as protests intensify

Sri Lanka president proposes unity government as protests intensify
  • The South Asia nation has been struggling to pay for imports of essential goods – including food, fuel, and medicines – due to its dwindling foreign reserves

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday called for opposition parties to join a unity government after his Cabinet resigned as protests grew over his leadership during the country’s worst economic crisis.

The South Asia nation has been struggling to pay for imports of essential goods – including food, fuel, and medicines – due to its dwindling foreign reserves. For several months, Sri Lankans have had to endure long queues at shops for basic supplies and have faced rolling power cuts lasting several hours a day.

All 26 of Sri Lanka’s Cabinet ministers, with the exception of the president’s brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, submitted letters of resignation late on Sunday after widespread demonstrations denouncing the government’s handling of the economic crisis continued despite a weekend curfew that was lifted Monday morning and the president declaring a state of emergency on Friday.

“The president invites all political parties representing the Parliament to take up ministerial posts and join to find solutions to the national crisis,” the president’s media office said in a statement on Monday.

The statement added that solutions to the deepening crisis “must be sought within the democratic structure itself.”

The powerful Rajapaksa family had held top positions in the island nation, and Sunday’s resignations included two brothers within the ruling family, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, as well as the PM’s son Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa – a move widely perceived as an effort to quell people’s anger.

The Sri Lankan president subsequently appointed four ministers “to ensure parliament and other tasks can be conducted in a lawful manner until a full Cabinet can be sworn in.”

Justice Minister Ali Sabry was appointed as the new finance minister, while previous ministers of foreign affairs, education, and highways will keep their positions.

Following the president’s call to form a unity government, the opposition maintained their demand for the nation’s leader to resign.

“We are not going to compromise with the government on the formation of a national coalition, all we want is the resignation of the president,” Ranjith Madduma Bandara, general secretary of main opposition Samagi Jana Bakawegaya party, told reporters.

“Forming a unity government is not the solution, this was a cry from the middle class for the president to go home,” Dr. Dayan Jayatillake, former Sri Lankan diplomat and vice president of the UN Human Rights Council, told Arab News.

“It is nothing but fair for him to gracefully exit from his post without aggravating the situation.”

Sri Lanka is also grappling with soaring inflation and reportedly has nearly $7 billion in foreign debt obligations. The government said last month that it was in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a loan program, as it turned to China and India for loans.

Ordinary Sri Lankans, as well as opposition lawmakers, defied the curfew to protest on Sunday, after authorities attempted to prevent protests by blocking access to major social media platforms — including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter — used to organize the demonstrations, for nearly 15 hours.

Public outrage on the streets continued throughout the country of 22 million people on Monday, with reports of authorities firing tear gas and water cannons in the last two days.

Sarath Kulatillake, who led a protest in Colombo on Sunday, said: “We are neither terrorists nor extremists, we have come to the streets since we are being hit below our belt.”


Ethiopian government accepts African Union invitation to peace talks

Ethiopian government accepts African Union invitation to peace talks
Updated 30 min 57 sec ago

Ethiopian government accepts African Union invitation to peace talks

Ethiopian government accepts African Union invitation to peace talks
  • Senior official: African Union invitation consistent with the ‘need to have talks without preconditions’

NAIROBI: The Ethiopian government on Wednesday accepted an invitation by the African Union to hold peace talks in South Africa this weekend with rival Tigray forces, the national security adviser said.
Redwan Hussein, the national security adviser to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said on Twitter that the AU invitation was consistent with the “need to have talks without preconditions.”


Indonesian president Joko Widodo to order stadium audit to find ‘root’ of disaster

Indonesian president Joko Widodo to order stadium audit to find ‘root’ of disaster
Updated 51 min 22 sec ago

Indonesian president Joko Widodo to order stadium audit to find ‘root’ of disaster

Indonesian president Joko Widodo to order stadium audit to find ‘root’ of disaster
  • Joko Widodo: ‘I will order the public works minister to audit all stadiums used for the (football) league’

MALANG, Indonesia: Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Wednesday that he would order an audit of all football stadiums, vowing to find the “root” cause of one of the deadliest disasters in the sport’s history.
“I want to know the root of the problem that caused this tragedy so that we can get the best solution. I will order the public works minister to audit all stadiums used for the (football) league,” he said outside a hospital during a visit to the city where a stadium stampede killed at least 131 people Saturday.
Widodo said that football’s world governing body FIFA may help address management of the sport in Indonesia, having discussed the issue with FIFA President Gianni Infantino after the deadly stampede.


Vladimir Putin signs laws annexing four Ukrainian regions

Vladimir Putin signs laws annexing four Ukrainian regions
Updated 48 min 6 sec ago

Vladimir Putin signs laws annexing four Ukrainian regions

Vladimir Putin signs laws annexing four Ukrainian regions
  • Documents were published on a Russian government website on Wednesday morning
  • Move finalizes the annexation carried out in defiance of international law

KYIV: Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws absorbing four Ukrainian regions into Russia, a move that finalizes the annexation carried out in defiance of international law.

The documents were published on a Russian government website on Wednesday morning.

Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties making the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions part of Russia. The formalities followed Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” in the four regions that Ukraine and the West have rejected as a sham.

The move comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine has entered a new, more dangerous phase. Russia faces mounting setbacks on the battlefield, with Ukrainian forces retaking more and more land in the east and in the south — the very regions Moscow has pushed to annex.

The borders of the territories Russia is claiming still remain unclear, but the Kremlin has vowed to defend Russia’s territory — the newly absorbed regions, too — with any means at its disposal, including nuclear weapons.

Ukrainain President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to the annexation by announcing a fast-track application to join NATO and formally ruling out talks with Russia. Zelensky’s decree, released Tuesday, declares that holding negotiations with Putin has become impossible after his decision to take over the four regions of Ukraine.

On the battlefield on Wednesday morning, multiple explosions rocked Bila Tserkva, setting off fires at what were described as infrastructure facilities in the city to the south of the capital Kyiv, regional leader Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram.

Early indications are that the city was attacked by so-called “kamikaze” or suicide drones, he said.

Bila Tserkva is about 80 kilometers south of Kyiv.

Russia has increasingly been using suicide drones in recent weeks, posing a new challenge to Ukrainian defenses. The unmanned vehicles can stay aloft for long periods of time before diving into their targets and detonating their payload at the last moment.

Many of the earlier attacks by the Iranian-made drones happened in the south of the country and not near the capital, which hasn’t been targeted for weeks.

In a later post, Kuleba said that a total of six Shahed-136 drones struck the city, one of the largest in the region after Kyiv itself. One person was injured in the attacks.

Dozens of rescue workers were on the scene and still working to extinguish the fires hours after the attacks were reported, he said.

Ukrainian forces, in the meantime, continued to make gains in the south. Kyiv’s military said Wednesday they have recaptured more villages in the Kherson region as a part of their massive counteroffensive effort.

Operational Command South said that the Ukrainian flag has been raised above Liubymivka, Khreschenivka, Zolota Balka, Biliaivka, Ukrainka, Velyka and Mala Oleksandrivka villages.


One injured in attack by Iran-made drones near Kyiv

One injured in attack by Iran-made drones near Kyiv
Updated 05 October 2022

One injured in attack by Iran-made drones near Kyiv

One injured in attack by Iran-made drones near Kyiv
  • The Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South said on Telegram that it had shot down six drones of the same type during the night

KYIV: One person was injured in an attack with Iranian-made drones in the town of Bila Tserkva southwest of Kyiv, the region’s governor said Wednesday.
“During the night, the enemy carried out strikes with Shahed-136 type kamikaze drones against Bila Tserkva,” governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on social media.
Kuleba said there were “six hits and explosions” in the town 100 kilometers south of Kyiv, whose pre-war population was around 200,000.
“One person was injured. Several infrastructure facilities were damaged,” he said.
The Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South said on Telegram that it had shot down six drones of the same type during the night, without specifying their exact location.
Last month, Ukraine reported the first Russian attacks carried out using Iranian-made drones, but these have so far mainly targeted the south of the country, including the strategic city of Odessa on the Black Sea.
According to media, Iran has delivered hundreds of its drones to Russia despite warnings from Washington, a Kyiv ally.
Ukraine said that it would “significantly reduce” Iran’s diplomatic presence in retaliation to Tehran’s deliveries of drones to Moscow.
It removed the accreditation of the Iranian ambassador and said it is “significantly reducing” the Iranian Embassy’s diplomatic staff.
Tehran said the decision was “based on unfounded information, relayed by foreign media propaganda” against Iran.


South Korea, US fire missiles into the sea to protest ‘reckless’ North Korea test

South Korea, US fire missiles into the sea to protest ‘reckless’ North Korea test
Updated 05 October 2022

South Korea, US fire missiles into the sea to protest ‘reckless’ North Korea test

South Korea, US fire missiles into the sea to protest ‘reckless’ North Korea test
  • The UN Security Council will meet to discuss North Korea at the request of the United States
  • It was the first North Korean missile to follow a trajectory over Japan since 2017

SEOUL: South Korea and the US military conducted missile drills in response to North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile over Japan, as the United Nations Security Council prepares to meet over what was Pyongyang’s longest-range test.

Nuclear-armed North Korea test-fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) farther than ever before on Tuesday, sending it soaring over Japan for the first time in five years and prompting a warning for residents there to take cover.

South Korean and American troops fired a volley of missiles into the sea in response, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday, and the allies earlier staged a bombing drill with fighter jets in the Yellow Sea.

The military separately confirmed that a South Korean Hyunmoo-2 missile failed shortly after launch and crashed during the drill, but that no one was hurt.

South Korea’s military said that the missile carried a warhead but that it did not explode, and apologized for causing residents to worry.

The White House National Security Council called North Korea’s latest test “dangerous and reckless” and the US military and its allies have stepped up displays of force.

The USS Ronald Reagan, an American aircraft carrier that made its first stop in South Korea last month for the first time in years, will be deployed between Korea and Japan in what the South Korean military called a “highly unusual” move designed to show the allies’ resolve to respond to any threats from North Korea.

US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned North Korea’s test in the “strongest terms,” the European Union called it a “reckless and deliberately provocative action,” and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the launch and said it was a violation of Security Council resolutions.

The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss North Korea at the request of the United States, despite China and Russia telling council counterparts they were opposed to an open meeting of 15-member body. They argued that the council’s reaction should be conducive to easing the situation on the Korean Peninsula, diplomats said.

It was the first North Korean missile to follow a trajectory over Japan since 2017, and its estimated 4,600km flight was the longest for a North Korean test, which are usually “lofted” into space to avoid flying over neighboring countries.

Analysts and security officials said it may have been a variant of the Hwasong-12 IRBM, which North Korea unveiled in 2017 as part of what it said was a plan to strike US military bases in Guam.

Neither North Korea’s government nor its state media have reported on the launch or disclosed what type of missile was used.

The flight has increased concerns that North Korea may soon conduct an expected nuclear test, which would be the first since 2017.

South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Jong-sup, told parliament North Korea had completed preparations for a test and might use a smaller weapon meant for operational use, or a big device with a higher yield than in previous tests.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called the test “reckless” and said it would bring a decisive response from his country, its allies and the international community.

The launch was a “reckless and deliberately provocative action” that violated UN security council resolutions, a European Union spokesperson said.