Sri Lanka president defies calls for resignation despite worsening crisis

Special Sri Lanka president defies calls for resignation despite worsening crisis
Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not resign despite widespread protests against his handling of the country’s economic crisis. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 07 April 2022

Sri Lanka president defies calls for resignation despite worsening crisis

Sri Lanka president defies calls for resignation despite worsening crisis
  • On Tuesday night, Rajapaksa lifted controversial state of emergency measures following further protests, the departure of his finance minister and dozens of lawmakers who have walked out of the ruling coalition, leaving the government in a minority

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will never resign, his government whip told parliament on Wednesday, as mass anti-government protests continued throughout the country.

The South Asia island nation is struggling with double-digit inflation and dwindling foreign reserves in its worst financial crisis in decades. Months of shortages of basic commodities including food, medicines, and fuel, and increasingly long power cuts have resulted in growing public anger, with protesters taking to the streets demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation.

On Tuesday night, Rajapaksa lifted controversial state of emergency measures following further protests, the departure of his finance minister and dozens of lawmakers who have walked out of the ruling coalition, leaving the government in a minority.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will never resign from his post,” Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said in parliament.

“He was elected president by 6.9 million people. We are prepared to face any challenges and he will never resign from his office.”

 

 

The opposition, which has since rejected Rajapaksa’s invitation to form a unity government, said the president had lost people’s trust and should quit.

“People have lost confidence in the president since he has failed to deliver the goods to the people,” Sajith Premadasa, leader of the opposition in parliament, told lawmakers during Wednesday’s session.

Mujibur Rahman, from the Samagi Jana Balawegaya opposition alliance led by Premadasa, said it was high time Rajapaksa stood down.

“Already there is a strong uprising against the president who had disappointed the people,” he told Arab News. “Now, after two years they want him to go home for his failure.”

Rajapaksa, who has governed the country since 2019, continues to hold power with his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, despite the politically powerful family increasingly becoming the focus of public ire. Other family members include former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, who resigned on Sunday — a move widely perceived as an effort to quell public anger.

Rajapaksa’s government, despite having secured financial support from India and China, has failed to end the shortages of essential foods, and is facing nearly $7 billion in foreign debt obligations this year alone.


Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey
Updated 26 sec ago

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey
  • Four rockets landed in the Green Zone on Wednesday during a partial lockdown as parliament was convening, wounding seven security personnel, and another four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad landed around the zone on Thursday

STOCKHOLM: Sweden has reauthorized exports of war materials to Turkey in an apparently significant concession to Ankara, which is threatening to block the Nordic country’s NATO membership.

Ankara requested the lifting of the restrictions — which were introduced in 2019 following a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria — after Sweden applied to join NATO in mid-May.

“The government has made the assessment that a Swedish membership in NATO is the best way to protect Sweden’s and the Swedish people’s security,” the Inspectorate of Strategic Products said in a statement.

The government had already announced in June that Swedish membership of the military alliance could affect policy around military exports.

“Sweden’s application for NATO membership to a large degree strengthens the defense and security policy arguments for approving exports of war materials to other member states, including Turkey,” the authority said.

The ISP said it had approved exports relating to “electronic equipment,” “software” and “technical assistance” to Turkey in the third quarter of 2022.

To date, 28 of the 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland. Only Hungary and Turkey remain. New members to the alliance require unanimous approval.

Turkey’s parliament is due to resume work on Saturday after the summer break. But the country is heading for parliamentary elections in June 2023 and this could make it cautious about voting on membership for the Nordic countries.

As of Friday, Ankara had not reacted to the Swedish announcement.


UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso
Updated 25 min 24 sec ago

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso
  • The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso and called on all parties to refrain from using violence in the restive West African country.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the unfolding developments in Burkina Faso. He strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen.

The new putschists were quick to introduce an overnight curfew.

The army officers who have seized power in Burkina Faso said in televised comments that toppled junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base.”

Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” they said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Capt. Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new strongman.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied any involvement.

An hour before the televised comments by the military figures, who overthrew Damiba on Friday, the French Embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”

The embassy also denied “rumors that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military.”

According to the coup plotters, the actions by Damiba and the French forces are in response to their willingness “to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin which is some 30 km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January.

He had installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.


Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts
Updated 38 min 8 sec ago

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts
  • The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities

MEXICO CITY: Cultural ministers and representatives from 150 countries committed to expanding efforts to return historical artifacts to their countries of origin, according to a declaration released on Friday, following a UNESCO conference in Mexico City.

Major museums, auction houses and private collectors have faced growing pressure in recent years to repatriate priceless works of art and other antiquities from Latin American and African nations, among others, which argue the goods were often taken unethically or illegally.

The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities.

The declaration deems culture a “global public good” that should be included in the UN development goals.

Restitution of cultural artifacts is often politically sensitive and raises questions over the transport and care of often delicate antiquities.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has renewed calls in India for the return of one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds from Britain’s crown jewels, while Chile has for years demanded the return of a Moai statue from the British Museum.

Mexico’s government has previously called for the return of a 500-year-old Aztec crest known as Montezuma’s headdress from a Vienna museum, but experts have deemed its centuries-old iridescent quetzal feathers, dotted with golden pendants, too fragile for transport.

During the conference, ministers also discussed how to protect heritage from wars and climate change.

Ernesto Ottone, a senior UNESCO official, expressed hope that old attitudes are shifting in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

“In the last three years there has been a change, a turning point, on how restitution can be made,” he said, pointing to recent bilateral deals that have led to the return of artifacts. “Today, doors are opening for us.”


Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports

Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports
Updated 01 October 2022

Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports

Road accident in India leaves 27 dead: reports
  • The accident in the city of Kanpur in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh left another 22 people injured
  • Other news media gave slightly lower death tolls

NEW DELHI: A tractor pulling a trolley packed with pilgrims returning from a shrine in India overturned Saturday and plunged into a pond, killing as many as 27 people, Indian media reported.
The accident in the city of Kanpur in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh left another 22 people injured, The Times of India reported.
Other news media gave slightly lower death tolls.
The tractor-trolley was bringing Hindu pilgrims back from the Chandrika Devi temple, reports said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences in a tweet.
“Distressed by the tractor-trolley mishap took place in Kanpur. My thoughts are with all those who have lost their near and dear ones and prayers with the injured,” Modi said.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said this kind of vehicle — a tractor pulling a large cart — should be used only to transport farm goods and freight, not people, The Hindu said.
“The road accident in Kanpur district is very heart-wrenching,” he said.


Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
Updated 01 October 2022

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing

Women protesters demand more security after Afghan bombing
  • The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police
  • The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood

KABUL, Afghanistan: A group of Afghan women Saturday protested a suicide bombing that killed or wounded dozens of students in a Shiite education center in the capital Kabul a day earlier, demanding better security from the Taliban-run government.
The demonstration was quickly broken up by Taliban police.
The bomber struck an education center Friday packed with hundreds of students in a Shiite neighborhood, killing 19 people and wounding 27. Among the casualties were teenagers taking practice university entrance exams, a Taliban spokesman said.
The morning explosion at the center took place in Kabul’s Dashti Barchi neighborhood, an area populated mostly by ethnic Hazaras, who belong to Afghanistan’s minority Shiite community. The Daesh group has carried out repeated, horrific attacks on schools, hospitals and mosques in Dashti Barchi and other Shiite areas in recent years.
About 20 protesters Saturday gathered in the Dashti Barchi area for about 45 minutes before their rally was broken up by Taliban security. They carried banners in English and Dari reading “Stop Hazar Genocide.”
“We are asking the Taliban government, when they claim that they have brought security, how they cannot stop an attacker from entering an educational center to target female students. In this incident, one family has lost four members, why is it still happening,” said demonstrator Fatima Mohammadi.
Staff at the Kaaj education center spent Saturday cleaning up the wreckage caused by the attack, while victims’ family members searched through items covered with blood belonging to their loved ones.
Hussain, who goes by one name, witnessed the attack. He said he believed the death toll was significantly higher, based on the large number of bodies he saw.
“First the attacker just over there, where a huge crowd of students was standing, opened fire. At least 40 people were killed there,” he said.
Zahra, a student who survived the attack, was unharmed because she went out just minutes before to buy a pen. She said she lost her friends in the attack and also her hope for a better future.
“I am not even sure if there is a future for us anymore or not,” she said.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. The Daesh group — the chief rival of the Taliban since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 — has in the past targeted the Hazara community, including in Dashti Barchi, in a brutal campaign of violence.
Militants have carried out several deadly attacks in Dashti Barchi, including a horrific 2020 attack on a maternity hospital claimed by IS that killed 24 people, including newborn babies and mothers.