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.


Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
Updated 2 min 14 sec ago

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 

Japan provides $3m aid for makeshift clinics in Yemen 
  • The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said

The Japanese government has provided $3m in aid to help set up eight temporary clinics in Yemen.

The cash was provided through the United Nations Office for Project services, the Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported. 

The clinics will operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhale’, Marib, Shabwa, Hadhramout and Mahra, the Ministry of Public Health said. 

Every clinic will be equipped with a fully equipped laboratory, ultrasound and x-ray equipment, and an ECG and examination room. 

Meanwhile Yemen’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Muamar Al-Eryani has praised Japan’s humanitarian efforts in Yemen during a meeting with Charge D’Affairs of the Japanese Embassy in Yemen Kazohiro Higashe on Wednesday, according to SABA. 

The two discussed mutual relations between Japan and Yemen, as well as ways to enhance the countries’ bilateral ties. 

Al-Eryani also shared the latest developments in Yemen, including the Houthis’ violations of the UN Truce and the militia’s refusal to end the siege in Taiz, SABA reported. 

For his part, the Japanese diplomat confirmed his country’s support for Yemen’s legitimacy, security, and stability.


Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir
Updated 53 min 25 sec ago

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir

Five killed as rebels storm India army camp in Kashmir
  • Soldiers responded to the attack, triggering a gunbattle that lasted for at least three hours
  • Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989

SRINAGAR, India: Three Indian soldiers and two suspected militants were killed Thursday after rebels stormed a military camp in disputed Kashmir, officials said.
At least two assailants armed with guns and grenades attacked the camp in the remote Darhal area of southern Rajouri district early Thursday, said Mukesh Singh, a senior police officer.
The soldiers responded to the attack, triggering a gunbattle that lasted for at least three hours, Singh said.
A reinforcement of soldiers and counterinsurgency police encircled the camp as the fighting raged inside, officials said.
In addition to the five deaths, two soldiers were injured in the fighting, Singh said.
There was no independent confirmation of the incident.
On Wednesday, police said government forces killed three rebels in Budgam district during a counterinsurgency operation.
India and Pakistan claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety.
Rebels in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle. Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

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North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul
Updated 11 August 2022

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul

North Korea declares ‘shining victory’ over virus, blames Seoul
  • Kim Jong Un's powerful sister blamed leaflets from the South for causing the COVID outbreak in her isolated country
  • Seoul expresses regrets over the groundless claims and  threatening remarks by North Korea's leader

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered preventive measures eased just three months after acknowledging an outbreak, claiming the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also reported Thursday that Kim’s sister said her brother had suffered a fever and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets flown from across the border from South Korea, while warning of deadly retaliation.
Some experts believe North Korea has manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Kim maintain absolute control of the country amid mounting economic difficulties. They believe the victory statement signals Kim’s aim to move to other priorities but are concerned his sister’s remarks portend a provocation.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” that were based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of its infections.
Since North Korea admitted to an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” in its population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It has claimed the outbreak has been slowing for weeks and just 74 people have died.
“Since we began operating the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), daily fever cases that reached hundreds of thousands during the early days of the outbreak were reduced to below 90,000 a month later and continuously decreased, and not a single case of fever suspected to be linked to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday, according to KCNA.
“For a country that has yet to administer a single vaccine shot, our success in overcoming the spread of the illness in such a short period of time and recovering safety in public health and making our nation a clean virus-free zone again is an amazing miracle that would be recorded in the world’s history of public health,” he said.
For Kim to declare victory against COVID-19 suggests that he wants to move on to other priorities, such as boosting a broken and heavily sanctioned economy further damaged by pandemic border closures or conducting a nuclear test, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
South Korean and US officials have said North Korea could be gearing up for its first nuclear test in five years amid its torrid run of weapons tests this year that included its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
The provocative testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at leveraging its nukes for badly needed sanctions relief and security concessions, experts say.
Kim Jun-rak, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday the South Korean military was maintaining firm readiness and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.
The bellicose rhetoric of Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is concerning because it indicates she will try to blame any COVID-19 resurgence on the South and is also looking to justify North Korea’s next military provocation, Easley said.
North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with objects carried by balloons flown from South Korea — a questionable and unscientific claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible.
Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of Kim, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysteric farce” kicked off by South Korea to escalate confrontation. She claimed that her brother had suffered fever symptoms and praised his “energetic and meticulous guidance” for bringing an “epoch-making miracle” in the fight against COVID-19.
“(South Korean) puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly,” she said. “We have already considered various counteraction plans, but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one.”
Kim Yo Jong’s reference to Kim Jong Un’s illness wasn’t further explained.
Outside experts suspect the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to freight traffic in January and surged further following a military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April.
In May, Kim prohibited travel between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals should be met, which meant huge groups continued to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
At the virus meeting, Kim called for the easing of preventive measures and for the nation to maintain vigilance and effective border controls, citing the global spread of new coronavirus variants and monkeypox.


FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home

FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home
Updated 11 August 2022

FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home

FBI chief Wray denounces threats following search of Trump home
  • Supporters of President Donald Trump have been using violent rhetoric in the wake of his agency’s search of his Mar-a-Lago home
  • Trump is being investigated by the US Justice Department for potential mishandling of classified information

OMAHA, Nebraska: The director of the FBI had strong words Wednesday for supporters of former President Donald Trump who have been using violent rhetoric in the wake of his agency’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
Christopher Wray, who was appointed as the agency’s director in 2017 by Trump, called threats circulating online against federal agents and the Justice Department “deplorable and dangerous.”
“I’m always concerned about threats to law enforcement,” Wray said. “Violence against law enforcement is not the answer, no matter who you’re upset with.”
Wray made the remarks following a news conference during a long-planned visit to the agency’s field office in Omaha, Nebraska, where he discussed the FBI’s focus on cybersecurity. He declined to answer questions about the hours-long search Monday by FBI agents of Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida resort.
It has been easy to find the threats and a call to arms in those corners of the Internet favored by right-wing extremists since Trump himself announced the search of his Florida home. Reactions included the ubiquitous “Lock and load” and calls for federal agents and even US Attorney General Merrick Garland to be assassinated.
On Gab — a social media site popular with white supremacists and antisemites — one poster going by the name of Stephen said he was awaiting “the call” to mount an armed revolution.
“All it takes is one call. And millions will arm up and take back this country. It will be over in less than 2 weeks,” the post said.
Another Gab poster implored others: “Lets get this started! This unelected, illegitimate regime crossed the line with their GESTAPO raid! It is long past time the lib socialist filth were cleansed from American society!“
The search of Trump’s residence Monday is part of an investigation into whether Trump took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department has been investigating the potential mishandling of classified information since the National Archives and Records Administration said it had received from Mar-a-Lago 15 boxes of White House records, including documents containing classified information, earlier this year.

 


Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight
Updated 14 sec ago

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight

Alaska Airlines faces discrimination lawsuit over removal of Muslim passengers from flight
  • The two men were escorted off an aircraft in Seattle after a fellow passenger told flight attendants they had been talking and sending text messages in Arabic

LONDON: Two Muslims have filed a lawsuit accusing Alaska Airlines of discrimination for allegedly removing them from a flight prior to takeoff because they were “talking and texting in Arabic.”

According to Abobakkr Dirar and Mohamed Elamin, the incident occurred after they boarded a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in February 2020. They said the airline’s staff humiliated them “before their fellow passengers by unnecessarily deplaning (them) and allowing (other passengers) to observe plaintiffs surrounded by uniformed law enforcement personnel.”

The men said that they had been talking and texting in Arabic in the first-class cabin when a fellow traveler informed flight attendants about the text messages. They allege that an Alaska Airlines employee subsequently removed them from the flight due to a “ticket issue.”

This is not the first time that Arab passengers have complained about the way they were treated by airline staff in the US. In 2019, for example, Issam Abdallah said he was “humiliated” when an American Airlines flight to Texas he boarded in Alabama was canceled because crew members felt “uncomfortable” with him on the flight.

In 2016, Khairuldeen Makhzoom, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Oakland after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic and saying the phrase “inshallah” (which means God willing) during a telephone conversation.