Young Sri Lankan protesters turn to books as ‘weapons’ of change

Young Sri Lankan protesters turn to books as ‘weapons’ of change
In this photo shared on social media on May 2, people read books at a library set up at the main site of anti-government protests in Colombo. (Photo courtesy: Tilan Weerasinghe)
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Updated 05 May 2022

Young Sri Lankan protesters turn to books as ‘weapons’ of change

Young Sri Lankan protesters turn to books as ‘weapons’ of change
  • Sri Lanka, facing the worst economic crisis since independence, is about to default on its debts
  • For over a month, citizens have been taking to the streets to demand the president's resignation

COLOMBO: As mass anti-government demonstrations continue across Sri Lanka, young people have set up a library at the main protest site, in hopes of spurring defiance through reading.

For over a month now, citizens have been taking to the streets across Sri Lanka with a simple message, “Gota go home,” in reference to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 

He swept to office on a nationalist platform in 2019, but his support has plummeted in recent months amid skyrocketing inflation, stalled imports of fuel, shortages of medicines, food, and hours of power cuts every day as Sri Lanka faces defaulting on its debts.

In front of the president’s office in the capital, Colombo, thousands of demonstrators have been camping for over a month demanding that he resign. Makeshift tents at the site offer different kinds of support to the protesters — from food and water to entertainment.

The library has been set up in one of them, marked with a signboard that reads: “Books are the greatest weapon in the People’s Revolution.”

Ashan Vimukthi, one of the library’s first volunteers, said it started from a social media post last month, in which he and his friends shared the idea of bringing books to the protest. 




In this photo shared on social media on April 29, a signboard reads 'Books are the greatest weapon in the People’s Revolution' at a library set up at the main site of anti-government protests in Colombo. (Photo courtesy: Charith de Silva)

“What we felt was that mainstream media and politicians had taken control of people’s minds and were influencing their thoughts. Our goal is to free people from those influences,” he told Arab News. “If we can get people to start thinking on their own, that would be one of our greatest victories.”

What began as a small initiative has now expanded to a large one. The small tent has grown bigger, and wooden pallets have been put on the floor for people to sit on. Volunteers stack books according to their genre, and make sure the place is well-run.

The library has already collected over 30,000 books from donations. Many of them have been distributed by the volunteers among libraries in rural areas and to other protest sites across the country. 

Support comes not only in the form of books.

“We even had a guy come and make bookshelves for us,” Vimukthi said. “We had posted on social media about how some of the books had got wet in the rain, and a man spend his own money on pallets, brought them here, and quickly built us a few bookshelves and left.”

Books can be borrowed without registration. Returning a borrowed volume to the library is not strictly necessary, but borrowers are requested to replace it with another book.

“It has a lovely system,” another volunteer, Methsara Benaragama, told Arab News at the protest site. “The intention is not to maintain a typical library. This one has no hard and fast rules.”  

Benaragama wants the books to also become a reminder of the “peaceful revolution” as the protesters refer to their movement.

“It started on April 11 as an initiative of a group of young people,” he said. “We write the hashtag #GoHomeGota on each book cover and add a seal later, so that these books will always be the books of the revolution.”  

Sri Lanka is facing the most painful economic downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

On Wednesday, the main opposition party issued a no-confidence motion against the prime minister, aiming at ousting the government over failing in its constitutional duty to provide decent living standards.

Many in the island nation of 22 million can hardly afford three meals a day as the prices of food items such as rice and oil have risen by up to 200 percent over the past month.

While the main theme of anti-government protests across Sri Lanka remains “Gota go home,” the call is not just for change in the country’s top office.

“What we want is a system change,” Wanindu, a protester demonstrating in front of the president’s office, told Arab News. “We want all corrupt politicians out.”


Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction
Updated 16 May 2022

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction

Putin says new military infrastructure in Finland, Sweden would demand reaction
  • Russian leader says NATO’s expansion is a problem for Moscow

President Vladimir Putin on Monday said Russia had no issue with Finland and Sweden, but that the expansion of military infrastructure on their territory would demand a reaction from Moscow, as the Nordic countries move closer to joining NATO.
Putin, speaking in Moscow at a summit of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said NATO’s expansion was a problem for Russia and that it must look closely at what he said were the US-led military alliance’s plans to increase its global influence.


Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
Updated 16 May 2022

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case

Tokyo COVID-19 curbs declared illegal in ‘Kill Bill’ restaurant case
  • The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales

TOKYO: Japan’s “Kill Bill” restaurant operator prevailed in a court case on Monday that declared Tokyo’s now defunct COVID-19 infection curbs were illegal.
The orders, enacted in the capital during various states of emergency, included shortened operating hours and a ban on alcohol sales, though there was a compensating government subsidy. Businesses that didn’t comply were subject to fines.
Global-Dining Inc, which runs more than 40 restaurants, defied the restrictions, taking the city government to court over the matter.
The district court said the Tokyo government had not provided a “rational explanation” for the measures. The court determined they had been illegal but it denied Global-Dining’s claim for $0.80 (¥104) in damages.
The restrictions ended in March. Whether this ruling would inhibit the city government in acting against any renewed COVID-19 outbreak is unclear.
In a statement, Global-Dining president Kozo Hasegawa, said the case revealed the “injustice and sloppiness of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.” His company crowd-funded more than 25 million yen to fight the case.
Global-Dining’s Gonpachi restaurant, with a cavernous inner courtyard, inspired the fight scene in Quentin Tarantino’s first “Kill Bill” film. It was the site of a dinner between then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then US President George W. Bush in 2002.


Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
Updated 16 May 2022

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14

Indonesia tourist bus smashes into billboard, killing 14
  • The bus was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort

SURABAYA, Indonesia: A tourist bus with an apparently drowsy driver slammed into a billboard Monday on a highway on Indonesia’s main island of Java, killing at least 14 people and injuring 19 others, police said.
The bus, carrying Indonesian tourists from Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, was returning from a trip to Central Java’s Dieng Plateau, a popular mountain resort, when it hit the billboard on the Mojokerto toll road just after dawn, East Java traffic police chief Latief Usman said.
Television news showed police and medical personnel removing victims from the bus, which crashed just 400 meters before the highway exit.
Usman said police are still investigating the cause of the accident, but that the driver reportedly appeared drowsy before the crash.
He said police haven’t yet questioned the driver, who suffered severe injuries. Nineteen people were being treated in four hospitals in Mojokerto, mostly for broken bones.
Road accidents are common in Indonesia because of poor safety standards and infrastructure.


Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow

Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow
Updated 39 min 8 sec ago

Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow

Russian forces fall back in northeast Ukraine, McDonald’s retreats from Moscow
  • McDonald’s Corp, the world’s largest fast food chain, said it was pulling out of Russia because of the conflict
  • On battlefields near Kharkiv, an interior ministry adviser said Ukrainian troops were mounting a counter-offensive

RUSKA LOZOVA: Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian forces back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and some have advanced as far as the border with Russia, Ukrainian officials said on Monday.
The developments, if confirmed, would signal a further shift in momentum in favor of Ukraine nearly three months into a conflict that began when Russia sent tens of thousands of troops over the border into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Sweden meanwhile was expected to take a formal decision on Monday to apply to join NATO following a similar move by Finland — a change in the Nordic countries’ long-standing policy of neutrality brought on by the Russian invasion and concern about President Vladimir Putin’s wider ambitions.
“Europe, Sweden and the Swedish people are living now in a new and dangerous reality,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a debate in parliament in Stockholm.
Moscow warned of “far-reaching consequences” should they should go ahead.
And in another setback for Putin, McDonald’s Corp, the world’s largest fast food chain, said it was pulling out of Russia because of the conflict.
In Brussels, the European Union was working on a package of further economic sanctions on Russia to step up international pressure on Putin.
Counter-offensive
On the battlefields near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, interior ministry adviser Vadym Denisenko said Ukrainian troops were mounting a counter-offensive.
“It can no longer be stopped... Thanks to this, we can go to the rear of the Russian group of forces,” he said.
Kharkiv, lying about 30 miles (50 km) from the border with Russia, had endured weeks of heavy Russian bombardments. The Russian retreat from the city follows their failure to capture the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the war.
But thousands of people, including many civilians, have been killed across the country, cities have been blasted into ruins, and more than six million people have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighboring states in scenes not seen in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said on Monday the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces had reached the border with Russia.
Kharkiv region governor Oleh Sinegubov said the troops had restored a sign on the border.
“We thank everyone who, risking their lives, liberates Ukraine from Russian invaders,” Sinegubov said.
Reuters could not verify Ukraine’s account and it was not clear how many troops had reached the Russian border or where.
If confirmed, it would suggest the northeastern counter-offensive is having increasing success after Western military agencies said Moscow’s offensive in two eastern provinces known as the Donbas had stalled.
Konrad Muzyka, director of the Poland-based Rochan consultancy, said he was not surprised at the Ukrainian gains.
“The Ukrainians have been in the border regions for a few days already,” he told Reuters. “It’s symbolic and it definitely has PR value, but this was to be expected.
“Don’t get me wrong, the Russians still enjoy overall artillery superiority in terms of numbers, but I’m not sure if the same goes for the quality now.”
The governor of the Luhansk region in Donbas, Serhiy Gaidai, said the situation “remains difficult,” with Russian forces trying to capture the town of Sieverodonetsk.
He said leaders of the Lugansk People’s Republic, the territory in Luhansk controlled by Russian-backed separatists, declared a general mobilization, adding it was “either fight or get shot, there is no other choice.”
In the south, fighting was raging around the city of Kherson and Russian missiles struck residential areas of Mykolayiv, the presidential office in Kyiv said. Reuters was unable to verify the reports.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday Ukraine could win the war, an outcome few military analysts predicted when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Expanding NATO
In a blow for Russia, which has long opposed NATO expansion, Finland and Sweden moved ahead with plans to join the alliance.
But Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said on Monday that Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences.
“They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it,” Ryabkov said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.
Moscow calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
The most intense fighting appeared to be around the eastern Russian-held city of Izium, where Russia said it had struck Ukrainian positions with missiles.
Russia continued to target civilian areas along the entire frontline in Luhansk and Donetsk, firing at 23 villages and towns, Ukraine’s military task force said.
Ukraine’s military also acknowledged setbacks, saying Russian forces “continue to advance” in several areas in the Donbas region.
There was also no letup on Sunday in Russia’s bombardment of the steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, where a few hundred Ukrainian fighters are holding out weeks after the city fell into Russian hands, the Ukrainian military said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said “very difficult and delicate negotiations” were going on to save Ukrainians in Mariupol and Azovstal.

Farewell to Big Macs 
McDonald’s said it had started the process of selling its restaurants in Russia, following many other Western companies who are getting rid of their Russian assets to comply with international sanctions.
The decision to close its 847 restaurants in Russia marked the retreat of a Western brand whose presence there had been emblematic of the end of the Cold War.
“The humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, and the precipitating unpredictable operating environment, have led McDonald’s to conclude that continued ownership of the business in Russia is no longer tenable,” McDonald’s said.
French car-maker Renault also announced it will sell its majority stake in carmaker Avtovaz to a Russian science institute.


French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
Updated 16 May 2022

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change

French city rekindles burkini row with pool rule change
  • Burkini seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions

GRENOBLE, France: The Alpine city of Grenoble is set to reignite one of France’s recurring summer debates on Monday when it votes to authorize the “burkini” in state-run swimming pools.
The all-in-one swimsuit, used by some Muslim women to cover their bodies and hair while bathing, has become almost as topical as ice cream and sun hats during the holiday season in recent years.
Seen as a symbol of creeping Islamism by its critics and an affront to France’s secular traditions, many right-wingers and some feminists would like to ban it outright.
It is prohibited in most state-run pools — for hygiene, not religious reasons — where strict swimwear rules apply to all, including men who are required to squeeze into tight-fitting trunks.
Grenoble’s city council, dominated by the EELV green party, is set to scrap its bathing dress code on Monday, effectively authorizing long body coverings, beach shorts and topless bathing.
“Our intention is to remove all of the abnormal clothing restrictions,” mayor Eric Piolle said recently. “The issue is not being for or against the burkini specifically.”
Opponents see it differently, including the influential conservative head of the wider Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, who has promised to withdraw funding from the city.
“I am convinced that what Mr.Piolle is defending is a dreadful dead end for our country,” Wauquiez said at the beginning of May, accusing him of “doing deals with political Islam” to “buy votes.”
The regional spat has put the burkini back in the headlines nationally, animating French talk shows and the political class ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
The issue of how people dress for the pool touches on highly sensitive topics in France, including fears about the influence of Islam and threats to the country’s cherished secularism.
The right to worship freely is constitutionally protected, but the French state is also bound by law to be neutral in religious matters, including inside institutions.
“The burkini aims, purely and simply, to impose Islamist values at the heart of bathing areas and public leisure pursuits,” an open letter written by opposition councillors in Grenoble said last week.
Attempts by several local mayors in the south of France to ban the burkini on Mediterranean beaches in the summer of 2016 kicked off the first firestorm around the bathing suit.
The rules, introduced after a string of terror attacks in France, were eventually struck down as discriminatory.
Three years later, a group of women in Grenoble caused a splash by forcing their way into a pool with burkinis, leading the prime minister at the time to insist that the rules should be followed.
French sports brand Decathlon also found itself at the center of a similar row in 2019 when it announced plans to sell a “sports hijab” enabling Muslim women to cover their hair while running.
Monday’s vote in Grenoble “is an important moment for everyone concerned and their allies, but also in the fight against Islamophobia and control over women’s bodies,” local campaign group Citizens’ Alliance wrote on its Facebook page.
Demonstrations supporting and opposing the move are also planned in the city following the council meeting where mayor Piolle is expected to succeed in pushing through the change.
French feminists are split, with some seeing the burkini as a symbol of male oppression and others such as Caroline De Haas writing that “no one should be stigmatized in a pool because of their choice of swimwear.”
Grenoble would not be the first to change its rules, however.
The northwestern city of Rennes quietly updated its pool code in 2019 to allow burkinis and other types of swimwear.
The debate about the burkini comes as French Muslim women footballers are battling to overturn a ban on the wearing of religious symbols during competitive matches.
The French Football Federation currently prevents players from playing while wearing “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab or the Jewish kippa.
A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.