One dead after police fire on protesters in Sri Lanka amid bailout talks with IMF

Protesters block a railway line in Rambukkana on April 19, 2022. (AFP)
Protesters block a railway line in Rambukkana on April 19, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 20 April 2022

One dead after police fire on protesters in Sri Lanka amid bailout talks with IMF

Protesters block a railway line in Rambukkana on April 19, 2022. (AFP)
  • “A full, transparent investigation is essential & the people’s right to peaceful protest must be upheld,” the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, said in a tweet

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police fired live ammunition to scatter protesters on Tuesday, killing one person and injuring a dozen more, as the country sought rapid financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease a worsening economic crisis.
Demonstrations have raged across the South Asian island country of 22 million people for weeks, voicing anger against the government’s mishandling of the economy that has led to shortages of essentials and prolonged power cuts.
Mihiri Priyangani, director of the Kegalle Teaching Hospital, said at least one protester was killed and 12 injured were hospitalized, including two in critical condition, after clashes broke out between demonstrators and police in the central town of Rambukkana.
The deceased person — the first fatality since the largely peaceful protests began last month — had likely been shot, Priyangani told Reuters. “We are suspecting gunshot injuries but need a post-mortem to confirm the exact cause of death.”
Disturbances erupted after police asked protesters to move away from a key railway line which they had blocked for hours, police spokesman Nalin Thalduwa said.
“To control the situation, police fired at the protesters,” Thalduwa told Reuters.
“Several injured policemen have also been hospitalized,” he said, adding live ammunition and tear gas had been used to repel a crowd pelting stones and other objects. “Police are still in the area and attempting to restore calm.”
Some rights groups and foreign diplomats called for restraint and condemned the violence in Rambukkana, where police imposed a curfew late on Tuesday.
“A full, transparent investigation is essential & the people’s right to peaceful protest must be upheld,” the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, said in a tweet.
Analysts have flagged political instability as a serious risk as Sri Lanka looks to negotiate a loan program from the IMF, with a delegation headed by Finance Minister Ali Sabry kicking off formal talks in Washington on Monday.
The government is looking for assistance to help top up its reserves and attract bridge financing to pay for essential imports of fuel, food and medicines.
Shamir Zavahir, an aide to Sabry, said on Twitter that Colombo had asked for an IMF loan under the rapid financial instrument (RFI) window, meant for countries needing urgent balance-of-payment support. But the global lender was initially not inclined to grant the request, he said.
“The IMF has subsequently informed Minister Sabry that India had also made representations on behalf of Sri Lanka for an RFI,” Sri Lanka’s finance ministry said in a statement.
“It has been communicated that IMF will consider the special request made despite it being outside of the standard circumstances for the issuance of an RFI.”
An IMF spokesperson had no immediate comment on the finance ministry’s request.
A source familiar with the matter said that IMF talks with Sri Lanka had just started and would take time to reach any agreement. The biggest impediment is Sri Lanka’s unsustainable debt, which must be restructured before the Fund can lend any more money to the island under its rules — a process that would involve China, one of its biggest creditors, the source added.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva tweeted https://twitter.com/KGeorgieva/status/1516396945404747778 after a meeting with Sabry on Tuesday that they discussed policy actions and would “work together toward mapping a pathway to #SriLanka’s recovery.”
Critics say the financial crisis arose from the effects of financial mismanagement by successive governments, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and as rising prices of fuel sapped foreign reserves. Fuel, power, food and medicines have been running low for weeks.

INDIA WEIGHS IN
Sri Lanka is seeking $3 billion in the coming months from multiple sources including the IMF, the World Bank and India to stave off the crisis, Sabry told Reuters earlier this month.
Both India and China have already extended billions of dollars in financial support to Sri Lanka. Sabry met Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman https://twitter.com/finminindia/status/1516125985044779011?s=24&t=OhOONx... on the sidelines of the IMF deliberations, and both sides said they agreed to deepen their cooperation.
“India will fully support the deliberations of Sri Lanka with the IMF, especially on the special request made for expediting an extended fund facility,” Sabry’s office said, citing his meeting with Sitharaman.
Last week, Sri Lanka’s central bank said it was suspending repayment on some of its foreign debt pending a restructure.
In the commercial capital Colombo, protests demanding the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa have dragged on for more than a week.


Newly appointed UK education minister resigns to try and force PM Johnson out

Newly appointed UK education minister resigns to try and force PM Johnson out
Updated 7 sec ago

Newly appointed UK education minister resigns to try and force PM Johnson out

Newly appointed UK education minister resigns to try and force PM Johnson out
  • Michelle Donelan: Is is the only way to force the hand of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to quit
LONDON: British education minister Michelle Donelan resigned from government on Thursday less than 48 hours after she was appointed, saying it was the only way to force the hand of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to quit.
“I see no way that you can continue in post, but without a formal mechanism to remove you it seems that the only way that this is... possible is for those of us who remain in Cabinet to force your hand,” Donelan wrote in a resignation letter, saying she had “pleaded” with Johnson on Wednesday to resign.
“You have put us in an impossible situation... as someone who values integrity above all else, I have no choice.”

Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict

Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict
Updated 21 min 27 sec ago

Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict

Russia attends G20 meeting set to be dominated by Ukraine conflict
  • The G20 foreign ministers’ meeting runs until Friday in host country Indonesia
  • Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be up close with the most vocal opponents of the Ukraine invasion

NUSA DUA, Indonesia: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on the Indonesian island of Bali on Thursday preparing for a G20 gathering that will be his first face-to-face meeting with the fiercest critics of his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The G20 foreign ministers’ meeting runs until Friday in host country Indonesia, which has this year grappled with the tough balancing act of running a global summit buffeted by geopolitical pressures and a global food crisis blamed on the Ukraine war.
There was tight security on Thursday as foreign diplomats descended on the tropical island for a meeting where the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be front and center.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her country and like-minded nations would use the G20 meeting to highlight the impact of the war.
“We will be making very clear collectively our views about Russia’s position and Russia’s behavior,” she said.
Thursday’s welcome dinner will be the first time President Vladimir Putin’s long-serving foreign minister Lavrov will be up close with the most vocal opponents of the Ukraine invasion, which Moscow has called a “special military operation.”
Lavrov planned to meet some G20 counterparts on the sidelines of the summit, Russian news agency TASS reported, but ministers including Germany’s Annalena Baerbock and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have ruled out separate meetings with Lavrov.
The Group of 20 includes Western countries that have accused Moscow of war crimes in Ukraine and imposed sanctions, but also countries like China, Indonesia, India and South Africa that have been more muted in their response.
Some US and European officials have stressed the gathering would not be “business as a usual,” with a spokesperson for the German foreign minister saying G7 countries would coordinate their response to Lavrov.
In 2014, the G7 excluded Russia from the G8 over its annexation of Crimea.
Top officials from Britain, Canada and the United States walked out on Russian representatives during a G20 finance meeting in Washington in April.
Despite early talk of boycotting subsequent G20 meetings, some analysts say Western nations may have decided it would be counterproductive to cede the floor to Russia.
A senior US State Department official said on Thursday it was important to maintain a focus on what Indonesia had set out for its G20 presidency and “not let there be any disruptions or interruptions to that.”
Discussion of energy and food security are on the agenda in the two-day meeting, with Russia accused of stoking a global food crisis and worsening inflation by blockading shipments of Ukrainian grain. Russia has said it ready to facilitate unhindered exports of grain.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi discussed with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the need to protect regional stability and solve global issues related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
“The solidity of the voices of developing nations are needed to stop the war, and to reintegrate food exports of Ukraine and Russia into the global supply chain,” Indonesia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Trying to leverage Indonesia’s neutrality, President Joko Widodo undertook an ambitious peace-brokering mission last week, visiting Kyiv and Moscow to meet his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts.


Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations

Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations
Updated 07 July 2022

Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations

Parliamentary Vice-Minister Honda lauds Japan-Algeria relations

TOKYO: Celebrations for the “60th Algeria Independence Day and the 60th Anniversary Ceremony of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Japan and Algeria” were held at the Embassy of Algeria in Japan on Tuesday.

Taro Honda, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, sent a video message to the event.

Honda said he was very pleased to celebrate this memorable day with Ambassador Larbi Katy, noting that Algeria is a friend of Japan in politics, economy and culture. He stated that he would like to further strengthen relationships in various fields, in the future.

“We will continue to work on cooperation that contributes to the economic growth and diversification of Algeria, and further promote the traditional friendship and cooperation between the two countries in this milestone year,” Honda stated.

“On behalf of the Government of Japan, I would like to congratulate the Government of Algeria and its people on the occasion of the 60th Algerian Independence Day. In addition, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Algeria.”

The beginning of the relationship between Japan and Algeria dates back to 1962 before the independence of Algeria. After independence, many Japanese businessmen were engaged in oil and natural gas development.”

Honda also made reference to TICAD 8, which will be held in Tunisia on August 27 and 28: “As African countries seek to recover from the new corona, soaring food and energy prices are having a profound impact on Africa’s economy and society. Based on this situation, TICAD intends to discuss ways for Japan and Africa to create a sustainable world together.”

This story originally appeared on Arab News Japan


Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s
Updated 07 July 2022

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s

Australia offers fourth COVID-19 shot to over 30s
  • Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups
SYDNEY: Australia will offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine to everyone over 30, health authorities said Thursday, as hospitals bulge with patients in a winter wave of infections.
The government said it is recommending a fourth jab for over 50s — but also offering it to everyone over 30 despite benefits to the younger age group being unclear.
It followed a recommendation by the top immunization advisory body, which said it recognized younger people might want a winter booster dose, even though its impact for them “is uncertain but likely to be limited.”
Australia had previously recommended a fourth COVID-19 shot only to people over 65 as well as to vulnerable groups, including those with weakened immune systems.
As new, more infectious omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 race through the population, the number of Australian hospital patients with COVID-19 has jumped by more than 1,000 in a month to about 3,900, with 140 people now in intensive care.
“This is placing real pressure on our health and hospital systems,” Health Minister Mark Butler told a news conference as he announced the decision.
More than 95 percent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated in Australia, where few people now wear a mask or take measures to socially distance.
As restrictions are gradually dismantled in a country that previously shut its international borders for nearly 20 months to exclude the virus, Australia this week dropped all vaccine certificate requirements for foreign visitors.

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules
Updated 07 July 2022

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules

Hong Kong suspends flight bans as it eases COVID-19 rules
  • Hong Kong has banned more than 100 flights this year
  • Previously, airlines would be banned for five days if they brought in more than five people infected with the coronavirus

HONG KONG: Hong Kong has suspended a rule that banned individual flights for bringing in passengers infected with the COVID-19 virus, as it caused “unnecessary trouble” and inconvenience to residents of the global financial hub, the government said on Thursday.
The city has banned more than 100 flights this year. The bans were a major frustration for businesses and residents used to easy and efficient travel from the former British colony. Its removal paves the way for many residents to return home, with scores stranded overseas due to the flight bans. “The social cost caused by the ‘circuit breaker mechanism’ is quite large, and it also brings unnecessary trouble to these international students and their families,” the government said in a statement.
Previously, airlines would be banned for five days if they brought in more than five people infected with the coronavirus. Earlier this year flights were banned for up to two weeks, making it difficult for airlines to operate.
All arrivals are still required to quarantine for at least one week in a hotel.
The government said it was looking to “improve” quarantine arrangements, “to facilitate the movement of people necessary for social and economic recovery.”
Measures such as the flight bans and mandatory hotel quarantine have hammered Hong Kong’s competitiveness, said business executives who are hoping the city’s new leader, John Lee, will scrap the quarantine rules.
Lee needs to reboot the city, eight business leaders said, because Hong Kong’s border has effectively been sealed since 2020 and international arrivals are subject to stringent quarantine and testing protocols.