Sri Lankan police use tear gas on protesters near Parliament

Sri Lankan police use tear gas on protesters near Parliament
The student-led protest began Thursday after a government-backed deputy speaker was elected in Parliament by a comfortable margin in what was seen a key victory for the ruling coalition. (File/AP)
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Updated 06 May 2022

Sri Lankan police use tear gas on protesters near Parliament

Sri Lankan police use tear gas on protesters near Parliament

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police used tear gas and a water canon on Friday to disperse student protesters who were camped outside Parliament criticizing lawmakers for not ousting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government over the country’s worst economic crisis in recent memory.
The student-led protest began Thursday after a government-backed deputy speaker was elected in Parliament by a comfortable margin in what was seen a key victory for the ruling coalition. Separately, protesters have been occupying the entrance to the president’s office in the capital, Colombo, for 28 days demanding Rajapaksa and his powerful ruling family quit.
Shops, offices and schools closed across the country Friday and transport came to a near standstill amid widespread demonstrations against the government.
“People have been telling this government to go home for a month. They just didn’t wake up from sleep demanding it,” student leader Wasantha Mudalige said. “They have endured big problems that have led to this demand.”
“There are discussions going on inside this thieves’ den called Parliament, and none of the people’s issues are discussed there. So the people’s decision is that the Parliament does not reflect their sentiments,” Mudalige added.
Factories, banks and government offices were also closed, with employees demonstrating in front of them. Black flags were displayed at shops, heeding a call from trade unions and other civil organizations, and many protesters wore black T-shirts.
Protesters also hung undergarments by a road leading to Parliament and chanted: “This is all we are left with!”
The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans. Its economic woes have brought on a political crisis, with the government facing protests and a no-confidence motion in Parliament.
Sri Lanka was due to pay $7 billion of its foreign debt this year out of nearly $25 billion it must pay by 2026. Its total foreign debt is $51 billion.
Sri Lanka’s finance minister announced earlier this week that the country’s usable foreign reserves have plummeted below $50 million.
For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad. Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which surged to 18.7 percent in March.
As oil prices soar during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Sri Lanka’s fuel stocks are running out. Authorities have announced countrywide power cuts extending up to 7 1/2 hours a day because they can’t supply enough fuel to power generating stations.
Protesters occupying the entrance to the president’s office have been demanding the president, his older brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and other powerful Rajapaksa family members quit. Similar protests have spread to other locations, with people setting up camps opposite the prime minister’s residence and other towns across the country.
So far, the Rajapaksa brothers have resisted calls to resign, though three Rajapaksas out of the five who were lawmakers stepped down from their Cabinet posts in mid-April.
Protesters who have crowded the streets since March hold Rajapaksa and his family— who have dominated nearly every aspect of life in Sri Lanka for most of the last 20 years — responsible for the crisis.
Sri Lanka has been holding talks with the International Monetary Fund to get an immediate funding facility as well as a long-term rescue plan but had been told its progress would depend on negotiations on debt restructuring with creditors.
Any long-term plan would take at least six months to get underway.


Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
Updated 12 sec ago

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps

Search efforts resume after glacier collapse in Italian Alps
  • ising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades

CANAZEI, Italy: Search and rescue operations resumed on Monday in the Italian Alps with 17 people missing, authorities said, after part of a mountain glacier collapsed, killing at least six people and injuring eight.

The avalanche took place on the Marmolada, which at more than 3,300 meters is the highest peak in the Dolomites, a range in the eastern Italian Alps straddling the regions of Trento and Veneto.

Rising average temperatures have caused the Marmolada glacier, like many others around the world, to shrink steadily over recent decades.

It was not clear what caused the ice to break way but an early summer heatwave across Italy saw temperature rise abruptly, including on the Marmolada.

“For weeks the temperatures at high altitudes in the Alps have been well above normal values, while this past winter there has been little snow, which hardly protects the glacial basins anymore,” Renato Colucci from the polar sciences institute of the National Research Council (CNR) said in a statement.

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two alpine guides, and another from the Czech Republic, news agency AGI reported, citing rescuers.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the head of the National Civil Protection agency were due to visit the area later on Monday.


Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
Updated 4 min 47 sec ago

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka extends school closures
  • Island’s dwindling stock of petrol, diesel expected to run out in days

COLOMBO: Schools across Sri Lanka will close for one week starting Monday, the Education Ministry has announced, as the island nation grapples with its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948.

Sri Lanka is struggling to find critical funding to finance the import of essential goods, including fuel, food and medicines.

The country’s existing stock of petrol and diesel is only sufficient for a few more days, and is now limited for use in essential services, such as health, public transport and food distribution. Long queues of drivers have been sighted across Colombo at gas stations, as some wait for more than 48 hours to fill their vehicles.

With the worsening economic turmoil, the Ministry of Education announced an early “holiday week” for all schools across the island, following an official review of the “notifications about the distribution of fuel” in the country.

“The week from July 4 to July 8 will be declared as a holiday week for all government schools and government-approved private schools across the island,” a circular issued by the ministry on Sunday reads.

The latest announcement comes after schools in Colombo and other urban areas were closed for two weeks in a row. Lessons were replaced with online classes, with officials previously citing transportation difficulties caused by the fuel crisis.

The extended closures have raised concerns among Sri Lankans, as some are worried about how the crisis will affect the future of younger generations.

“Simply closing schools will damage the future of the next generation,” Prof. Chandima Wijegunawardena, leader of the Sri Lanka Humanity Party, told Arab News.

“It’s sad that the political blunder of the parliamentarians is affecting children’s education.”

The economic meltdown has triggered a political crisis, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa facing accusations of corruption and economic mismanagement. Anti-government protesters have taken to the streets for months to demand his resignation.

Wijegunawardena said that the government should implement a system that allows students to attend schools closest to their homes.

“It’s a scheme that allows children to walk to schools nearby their homes, so the rule can apply to teachers and other staff, too,” he said. “Policies and principles can be changed with the changing times.”

Ismeth Fatima, principal of Zahira College in Colombo, said that students should not be deprived of education in schools.

“Let them go to the nearby school and transfer teachers to their respective places of origin so they can cut down on the travel,” Fatima told Arab News.

“It is sad that the country has to undergo this ordeal,” she said. “A school is a school — we cannot expect the children to learn properly in their own respective home environment.”

Online learning as an alternative has also worried educators, with MRM Rifky, principal of Al-Humaisara National School located in Beruwala, a town 60 kilometers south of Colombo, warning that students at his school have failed to attend the new virtual classes.

“Online education is an utter failure,” he told Arab News.

The two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have already deprived children in Sri Lanka of their educational experiences, said women’s rights activist Shreen Saroor.

“Now with this ad-hoc management of the education system, Sri Lanka will lose out on our history and pride.”


Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park
Updated 04 July 2022

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

Six killed in shooting at July 4 parade in Chicago suburb of Highland Park

HIGHLAND PARK, Chicago: At least six people have been killed and more than 24 were injured in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Highland Park on Monday, officials said, as panicked spectators fled the scene.

Officials told a news conference that six people were killed and 24 taken to hospital, and that a rifle was recovered from the scene.

“Law enforcement agencies are searching for the suspect; evidence of a firearm has been recovered,” the city of Highland Park reported on its website. “Numerous law enforcement officers are responding and have secured a perimeter around downtown Highland Park.”

The shooting comes with gun violence fresh on the minds of many Americans, after a massacre on May 24 killed 19 school children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the May 14 attack that killed 10 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Democrat Senator Julie Morrison was in the area when the shooting occurred.

“Today while participating in the Highland Park 4th of July parade, my family and I — and the entire Highland Park community — experienced the trauma of what far too many across the country are experiencing: the paralyzing terror of gun violence,” she said. 

“Like so many other families, I was with my husband, our three children and our grandchildren on what was to be a day of festivities and a beloved community event. Instead, we were running for safety, desperately praying that no one would die from the gunshots we heard in the distance. 

“Even in Highland Park, a town with some of the strictest gun laws in Illinois, lives are at risk from the lack of gun control.”

She continued: “Gun violence has been normalized and no one is to blame except elected officials who have the power to put their constituents’ lives ahead of the gun lobby, but fail to do so every chance they get. Instead we have a Supreme Court that just put our country on a path to even more guns on our streets and a Congress that’s patting themselves on the back over a watered down gun reform package that does little to stop the death sentence that is life in America right now.

“I am enraged by the gun free-for-all that’s killing our children, our seniors and everyone in between. The only way we can end this crisis is for our state and federal government to pass the laws that we’ve all been demanding. Until that happens, we are not safe anywhere—not at our places of worship, our schools, our community gatherings. If you’re not committed to saving lives then you have absolutely no place in public office.

“Thank you to the first responders who bravely stepped in to an active shooting and undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives today. I pray for healing for the victims — and my promise to you is that my years-long crusade against gun violence will continue stronger than ever.”

* With Reuters


British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
Updated 04 July 2022

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’

British Council workers stranded in Afghanistan at ‘high risk’
  • Over 180 teachers for the educational outfit suddenly given permission to come to Britain but still lack clear travel route

LONDON: Over 180 teachers at the British Council risk being stranded in Afghanistan after being given permission by the UK government to apply to come to Britain but still lacking a clear route for traveling to the country, The Guardian reported.

Former colleagues and MPs campaigned for the recovery of the contractors, horrified that they had been left behind as full-time British Council staff were extracted amid fears that they would face punishment from the Taliban for teaching values that do not align with the new Kabul administration.

Of the teachers stuck in Afghanistan, 85 have been classified as being at “very high risk,” while another 90 workers have been listed at “high risk.” Many have reportedly gone into hiding fearing the Taliban’s crackdown.

Joe Seaton, a former British Council employee who worked alongside many of the teachers in Afghanistan, told the Guardian that no evacuation plan has been drawn up for the contractors despite 11 months passing since the fall of the city to the Taliban.

Having originally not been afforded the right to be recovered to Britain, the UK government suddenly announced last month that British Council contractors will now be allowed to apply to come to the UK with their families. A decision was expected in August.

Seaton said: “We are finally making some progress, but there does not yet seem to be any clear arrangements on how to get them out. This is a key question. How long will it take to get them out? Every day is another day in grave danger, and so far, all government efforts at processing former British Council staff have been very slow and clunky. The government needs to massively speed up on processing the individual cases.”

He added that the British Council did not have a full list of contractors who worked with them, which he had provided to the organization: “I have given the British Council lists of the contractors on several occasions as they did not have the information.”

Seaton, who speaks to the contractors stuck in Afghanistan on a near-daily basis via WhatsApp, told The Guardian that, following the government’s decision, they were “optimistic, but worried this might be another false dawn.”

The Home Office decision in June ruled that British Council contractors, staff at GardaWorld and former Chevening Scholars could come to Britain with their families so long as the total number of refugees applying in this category to the Foreign Office did not exceed 1,500. Problems with housing have mired the government’s attempts to process Afghan refugees, with the average Afghan family significantly larger than the space afforded by a typical British house.

They have been told to make applications online, but the Home Office Minister for Afghan Resettlement conceded that this would be difficult in many parts of the country.

The British Council said: “We have a full and comprehensive list of our former colleagues and have shared that list with relevant government departments.

We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances, as the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.

The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former colleagues’ relocation applications.”


Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
Updated 04 July 2022

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk

Putin orders Ukraine offensive to continue after capture of Lugansk
  • ‘Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans’

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to press ahead with Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine after troops took control of the entire Lugansk region.
“Military units, including the East group and the West group, must carry out their tasks according to previously approved plans,” Putin told Shoigu.