Sri Lanka’s surprise finance minister has a mountain to climb

Ali Sabry, newly appointed minister of finance, speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 9, 2022. (REUTERS)
Ali Sabry, newly appointed minister of finance, speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 9, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 11 April 2022

Sri Lanka’s surprise finance minister has a mountain to climb

Ali Sabry, newly appointed minister of finance, speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 9, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Faced with the challenge of immediately finding $3 billion to pay for essential goods that he describes as “Herculean,” Sabry said he has the full backing of the president, the prime minister and his ruling party leaders

COLOMBO: When former justice minister Ali Sabry visited Sri Lanka’s president last Monday, it was for talks amid an economic crisis that has brought thousands of protesters on to the street and left the island nation short of fuel, medicine and power.
By the time Sabry left the meeting with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to his surprise he was finance minister, thrust into the center of a financial storm that will not be easy to calm.
“I was not ... ready for that when I went there,” Sabry said in an interview over the weekend, giving the first insider account of a dramatic week of political maneuvering.
“Normally I wear my jacket to go for any official function. I took oath even without my jacket, because I went for a discussion and then, I had to take that (oath).”
The country of 22 million people has been hit by crippling power cuts, sometimes lasting 13 hours, and other shortages. Foreign exchange reserves have plummeted to $1.93 billion and debt payments several times that amount are looming.
Ordinary people have taken to the streets in recent weeks calling for Rajapaksa and his family to quit. The president’s elder brother, Mahinda, is prime minister.
Before Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved his cabinet, Sabry, 51, had been his trusted justice minister.
Even after accepting the new job, Sabry had doubts. Some 24 hours later, amid questions about his suitability and concerns within his family over whether it was the right decision, he said he sent a resignation letter to the president.
“I’m also a human being. My family also matters to me,” Sabry said, seated in front of a wall of books at his law chambers in the commercial capital Colombo.
For four days after his resignation offer, no other candidate stepped forward, he said, and by Friday he had resolved to go ahead, following further discussions with family, the president and officials.
“My conscience was troubling me,” he recalled.
On Friday, when Sabry rose to speak in parliament, a lawmaker pointedly asked what capacity he was talking in.
Sabry confirmed that he was still finance minister.
“As I told ... parliament, what you need is not to be an economist. If that is the case, you need to be either a motor mechanic or a driver to run the transport ministry,” Sabry said, breaking into laughter.
Before the drama of the last weeks, Sabry, who is a member of Sri Lanka’s minority Muslim community, had enjoyed a 25-year career in law that had taken him to the top of the legal system.
He attended school in his hometown in Kalutara and Colombo’s Zahira College. At Sri Lanka Law College, he was general secretary of the law students’ union and later deputy president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the country’s largest collective of lawyers.
From a family with deep roots in politics, Sabry has also had a long relationship with the Rajapaksas, particularly the president, whom he has represented in court.
Faced with the challenge of immediately finding $3 billion to pay for essential goods that he describes as “Herculean,” Sabry said he has the full backing of the president, the prime minister and his ruling party leaders.
He must also lead what are expected to be complicated negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a much-needed loan program.
Sabry said he had confidence in a team of key officials, including a new central bank governor and treasury secretary, alongside an advisory committee.
“I’m willing to do this as long as it takes,” Sabry said.
Udeeshan Jonas, Chief Strategist at Colombo-based investment bank CAL Group, said Sabry had shown courage taking on a job that no one else appeared to want.
“He will have to be the person to take unpopular and difficult decisions. The economic reforms that Sri Lanka needs to make will not come easy,” Jonas said.
Some analysts said the finance minister could be hamstrung by the public’s loss of confidence in the Rajapaksa family and what people saw as government inertia.
“Individuals cannot do much. The government has to take the right steps,” said Sirimal Abeyratne, a professor of economics at the University of Colombo. “We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel but nothing more than that.”


‘We may suddenly arrive one night’: Erdogan threatens Greece, ‘annoying’ countries

‘We may suddenly arrive one night’: Erdogan threatens Greece, ‘annoying’ countries
Updated 12 min 43 sec ago

‘We may suddenly arrive one night’: Erdogan threatens Greece, ‘annoying’ countries

‘We may suddenly arrive one night’: Erdogan threatens Greece, ‘annoying’ countries
  • Said Greece should take warnings about Turkey’s response to any threats seriously
  • Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country was open to a dialogue with any neighboring country

PRAGUE: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Greece, and other countries that “annoyed” him, understood Ankara's message when Turkish officials said “we may suddenly arrive one night” — a comment that Greek and some other Western officials have condemned as a threat to a neighboring state.

Erdogan added there was nothing worth discussing with Greece at the moment and, at the inaugural meeting of the European Political Community, he accused Athens of basing its policies on “lies.”

He continued, at a press conference in Prague: “They are not where they are supposed to be, their entire policy is based on lies, they are not honest. We have nothing to discuss with Greece.”

He said Greece should take his warnings about Turkey’s response to any threats seriously, and also told the summit that he expects the EU “to call on Greece for dialogue on a bilateral basis instead of supporting illegal initiatives masquerading as unity or solidarity.”

In return, the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said his country was open to dialogue with any neighboring country.

“Greece never provokes, and it always responds with confidence when provoked,” Mitsotakis said ahead of Friday’s meetings.

“It does not make sense to accuse Greece of raising the tension in the Aegean when Turkey even raises issues of the sovereignty of the islands.

“Greece is not closing the door to dialogue, we are sure that we have international law on our side,” he added.

Leaders from across Europe started meeting Thursday in Prague for the inaugural summit. The first gathering at the grand Prague Castle complex brought together a disparate grouping of 44 nations from the Caucasus in the southeast to Iceland in the northwest.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was not invited, loomed over the meeting as discussions focused on the economic and security turmoil sparked by his invasion of Ukraine.

* With Reuters and AFP

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Indian workers rescued from job scams in Southeast Asia

Indian workers rescued from job scams in Southeast Asia
Updated 07 October 2022

Indian workers rescued from job scams in Southeast Asia

Indian workers rescued from job scams in Southeast Asia
  • Some fraudulent IT companies appear to be engaged in digital scamming and forged cryptocurrencies
  • The Indian workers were held captive and forced to commit cyber fraud

NEW DELHI: India’s government on Friday said it has rescued about 130 Indian workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia after they were lured by agents for fake job opportunities in the information technology sector in Thailand.
Arindam Bagchi, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, said some fraudulent IT companies appear to be engaged in digital scamming and forged cryptocurrencies. The Indian workers were held captive and forced to commit cyber fraud, he told reporters.
The companies appear to be operating through agents in Dubai, Bangkok and some Indian cities and were recruiting Indian workers through social media advertisements for fake highly lucrative jobs in Thailand, he said.
Many of the workers were taken illegally across the border into an area of Myanmar that is difficult to access because of the local security situation, Bagchi said.
He said nearly 50 workers have been brought back to India from Myanmar, while some others were still in Myanmar police custody for questioning because they illegally entered the country without visas.
He said 80 other Indian workers have been rescued from Cambodia and Laos.
Last month, M.K. Stalin, the top elected official of India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that 300 Indians, including around 50 Tamils from the state, were being held captive in Myanmar.
Citizens of other countries in the region have suffered in similar scams.
On Thursday, 21 Malaysians rescued from human traffickers in Cambodia and Laos returned home. Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the government has now rescued 273 people out of 401 reported missing in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Most have returned except for 60 still in immigration detention centers in those countries who are waiting to be processed, he said.
A UN envoy has said the scam networks, which often have links to transnational organized crime, are set up in countries with weak law enforcement, attracting educated young workers with promises of high earnings. The workers are then subject to isolation and the threat of violence unless they succeed in cheating victims reached by phone into transferring payments into overseas bank accounts.


UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia

UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia
Updated 07 October 2022

UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia

UN rights body agrees to appoint expert to scrutinize Russia
  • The 47-member Human Rights Council passed the proposal, presented last week by all European Union member countries except Hungary
  • The original proposal expressed concerns about “mass forced shutdowns" of independent media, NGOs and opposition groups in Russia
GENEVA: The UN’s top human rights body voted Friday to appoint an independent expert to step up scrutiny of Russia’s rights record at home as arbitrary arrests, a crackdown on dissenting voices and limits on free speech worsen during the war in Ukraine.
The 47-member Human Rights Council passed the proposal, presented last week by all European Union member countries except Hungary, on a 17-6 vote, with 24 abstentions. Shortly before the vote in Geneva, Russian human rights group Memorial was named a co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
The original proposal expressed concerns about “mass forced shutdowns” of independent media, non-governmental organizations and opposition groups in Russia.
The Human Rights Council majority agreed to name a “special rapporteur” to keep tabs on rights violations in Russia, in part by relying on help from Russian groups and activists who are both still in the country and abroad.
It’s the first time the council has authorized a special rapporteur to look into human rights issues in any of the five countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Russian ambassador Gennady Gatilov called the draft proposal a “despicable document” that was intended “to find yet another way of exerting leverage for bringing pressure to bear on Russia.”
“This scheme by the EU and its allies is yet another attempt to punish our country for pursuing an independent foreign and domestic policy, and to entrench for the long-term the topic of Russia on the agenda of the HRC so as to unleash a stream of false allegations and accusations directed at us,” Gatilov said.
Western countries provided most of the votes in favor, joined by Paraguay, Marshall Islands and Ukraine. Diplomats from Bolivia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Kazakhstan and Venezuela voted against the proposal.
The number of abstentions in part reflected hesitations about authorizing a special rapporteur for a country that opposed the initiative: It’s unlikely that Russia will let the special rapporteur to visit the country.
The council previously appointed a Commission of Inquiry — the UN-backed body’s highest form of scrutiny — that is looking into rights abuses related to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Russian government has taken a number of steps to limit domestic dissent over the war, including passing a law that criminalizes spreading “fake” news about Russia’s military.
British ambassador Simon Manley said “repression at home, aggression abroad” by Russian authorities had increased since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February.
“The truth is that (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin uses repressive legislation to restrict freedom of speech and assembly. He crushes dissent through arbitrary detention and violence and has created a climate of fear and intimidation in order to deter civil society and activists from speaking out against the authorities,” Manley said.
Russia was a member of the Human Rights Council until earlier this year, when it suspended its participation as the UN General Assembly was set to strip the country of its membership due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Friday was the last day of the council’s fall session. A day earlier, member countries rejected a proposal, first floated by the United States and several other Western countries, to hold a debate over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Western Xinjiang region.

Japan recognizes ‘right of Palestine to establish an independent state’

Japan recognizes ‘right of Palestine to establish an independent state’
Updated 07 October 2022

Japan recognizes ‘right of Palestine to establish an independent state’

Japan recognizes ‘right of Palestine to establish an independent state’
  • Hayashi stated that Japan recognizes “the right of Palestine to establish an independent state”
  • Japan has continued to provide substantial aid assistance to the Palestinian state

TOKYO: Japan Foreign Minister HAYASHI Yoshimasa on Friday said Japan “will continue to comprehensively examine whether Palestinian state recognition will contribute to the progress of the peace process.”

In reply to a question from Arab News Japan, Hayashi stated that Japan recognizes “the right of Palestine to establish an independent state” and Japan supports the two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The state of Palestine has “the right to self-determination,” Hayashi said, adding: “We support the Palestinians’ efforts to establish an independent state from the political and economic perspective.”

Meanwhile, Arab News Japan learned that when former Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah, former Prime Minister of Palestine met with Japanese Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio last week, he asked for Japan to recognize Palestine as a state.

Japan has continued to provide substantial aid assistance to the Palestinian state.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan. 


Fans mourn victims of Indonesian stadium stampede at Friday prayers

Fans mourn victims of Indonesian stadium stampede at Friday prayers
Updated 07 October 2022

Fans mourn victims of Indonesian stadium stampede at Friday prayers

Fans mourn victims of Indonesian stadium stampede at Friday prayers
MALANG: Indonesians gathered for Friday prayers mourned 131 people killed in a soccer stampede six days ago, amid calls for a prompt investigation into one of the world’s most deadly stadium disasters to enable its victims to rest in peace.
Most of those killed after the match in the town of Malang, in East Java province, died of asphyxiation, caught in a panicked crush as they tried to flee after police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse a rowdy crowd.
At Al Fatih Mosque near Malang an Islamic preacher led a tearful recital of tahlilan, or special prayers for the dead.
“Many of the supporters demand the case be immediately resolved so the souls of those who died can rest in peace,” said 53-year-old soccer fan Widodo after joining the prayer.
Widodo, who like many Indonesians uses one name, had been at Saturday’s match but left early fearing things could turn bad.
Police have named six suspects in an investigation into the stampede, including match organizers and three officers who were present.
The deadly incident has fueled accusations of heavy-handed policing in the soccer-mad Southeast Asian nation, with the use of tear gas inside the stadium — prohibited by world soccer body FIFA — widely criticized.
Messages and posters have been plastered on the stadium’s doors and walls, some demanding an end to “police brutality,” and Amnesty International Indonesia said on Friday that the tragedy “shows what can happen when excessive use of force by security forces is allowed to go on with impunity.”