Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel

Special Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel
Student protesters near the President’s House, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 19, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 May 2022

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka runs out of fuel
  • Island nation defaults on foreign debt after missing Wednesday repayment deadline
  • Budget deficit soars to $6.8bn, or 13 percent of national GDP, as financial woes worsen

COLOMBO: Most Colombo residents stayed home on Thursday, unable to reach work or drive their children to school, as crisis-hit Sri Lanka ran out of fuel.  

The island nation of 22 million people has defaulted on its debt as it struggles with its worst financial crisis in more than 70 years. The country’s grace period to repay $78 million of unpaid interest payments expired on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took office last week, said on Monday that Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves had fallen to almost nothing and the country urgently needed $75 million in foreign exchange to pay for essential imports.

With no money coming, fuel ships remained anchored offshore, their cargoes out of reach.

Gas pumps have since gone dry, leaving many queuing in the hope of refueling their vehicles.

“When you have no choice, what to do?” said Chamin Tilakkumara, whose three-wheeler has been parked in a queue on Flower Road in an affluent part of Colombo for two days.  

“I have six mouths to feed back at home, so if I don’t do this how will we manage?”

Milani Perera, another Colombo resident, told Arab News that she struggled to return home after much of the city’s public transport came to a halt.

“I stood for over an hour in the rain with two small children and no way to go home,” she said. “I was weeping when a complete stranger decided to give us a ride near my home. I was so thankful, but I don’t want to go out again.”

Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera told Parliament on Thursday that fuel will not be available for at least another few days.

The Education Ministry has since suspended schools.

Sri Lanka is facing a shortage not only of fuel, but also food and medicines, as its budget deficit climbs to $6.8 billion, or 13 percent of gross domestic product.

The crisis has triggered widespread demonstrations across the country since March, with protesters demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s elder brother, quit as prime minister last week, after clashes between government supporters and protesters left nine people dead and almost 300 injured.

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel
Updated 15 min 57 sec ago

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel
  • Rolls-Royce, BAE, Hewlett-Packard, identified
  • Firms’ military supplies killing Palestinians, say activists

LONDON: Students at universities across the UK and beyond have called on their institutions to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

The move coincided with Tuesday’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and has also garnered support from students in the US.

It is part of the ongoing #Divest4Palestine student movement, which is a growing campaign on campuses globally, said pro-Palestinian NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa. The group is concerned with defending the human rights of Palestinians and protecting the Al-Aqsa Sanctuary in Jerusalem, considered sacred by Muslims.

“Students will ask their vice-chancellors to divest from four main companies, Rolls-Royce PLC, BAE Systems, Hewlett-Packard and,” the UK-based organization said. “Some will also call for divestment from Samsung and HSBC.”

The FOA said Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems supply military equipment used by Israel to kill Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It added that Israel killed 17 Palestinian children in its most recent bombardment on Gaza in August, leading UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet to describe Israel’s actions as “unconscionable.”

BAE makes the drones and Rolls-Royce makes parts of the fighter planes used by Israel to attack Gaza, it also stated.

“It’s time to hold our vice-chancellor to account,” said Hannaa, a second-year student. “Our university’s investments must be ethical. Money from this institution should absolutely not contribute to the killing of fellow students in Gaza.”

Students will also call on their institutions to divest and cut all ties with HP and, as it believes HP provides hardware for Israeli prisons and the Israeli police, and advertises accommodation in illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

“Feeling the impacts of the ongoing global campaign to divest, has lately started labelling accommodation in illegal Israeli settlements as existing on ‘occupied’ Palestinian land, but the online travel agency must go a step further and stop listing this accommodation entirely,” the FOA said.

Shamiul Joarder, head of public affairs at the FOA, said the “action shows the strength of support for Palestine on campuses.”

“Across the UK and beyond, students are demanding real change. They won’t accept their universities’ complicity in Israeli war crimes any longer.”

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal
Updated 01 December 2022

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal
  • United Nations: 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year
  • UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program’ the world has ever seen

GENEVA: The UN appealed for record funds for aid next year, as the Ukraine war and other conflicts, climate emergencies and the still-simmering pandemic push more people into crisis, and some toward famine.
The United Nations’ annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year — a staggering 65 million more people than the estimate a year ago.
“It’s a phenomenal number and it’s a depressing number,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, adding that it meant “next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program” the world has ever seen.
If all the people in need of emergency assistance were in one country, it would be the third-largest nation in the world, after China and India, he said.
And the new estimate means that one in 23 people will need help in 2023, compared to one in 95 back in 2015.
As the extreme events seen in 2022 spill into 2023, Griffiths described the humanitarian needs as “shockingly high.”
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa,” he said, also pointing to the war in Ukraine, which “has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield.”
The annual appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said that providing aid to the 230 million most vulnerable people across 68 countries would require a record $51.5 billion.
That was up from the $41 billion requested for 2022, although the sum has been revised up to around $50 billion during the year — with less than half of that sought-for amount funded.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline,” Griffiths said.
The report presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by a range of conflicts, worsening instability and a deepening climate crisis.
“There is no doubt that 2023 is going to perpetuate these on-steroids trends,” Griffiths warned.
The overlapping crises have already left the world dealing with the “largest global food crisis in modern history,” the UN warned.
It pointed out that at least 222 million people across 53 countries were expected to face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, with 45 million of them facing the risk of starvation.
“Five countries already are experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, in which we can confidently, unhappily, say that people are dying as a result,” Griffiths said.
Those countries — Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan — have seen portions of their populations face “catastrophic hunger” this year, but have not yet seen country-wide famines declared.
Forced displacement is meanwhile surging, with the number of people living as refugees, asylum seekers or displaced inside their own country passing 100 million — over one percent of the global population — for the first time this year.
“And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest,” Griffiths said, also pointing to outbreaks of mpox, previously known as monkeypox, Ebola, cholera and other diseases.
Conflicts have taken a dire toll on a range of countries, not least on Ukraine, where Russia’s full-scale invasion in February has left millions in dire need.
The global humanitarian plan will aim to provide $1.7 billion in cash assistance to 6.3 million people inside the war-torn country, and also $5.7 billion to help the millions of Ukrainians and their host communities in surrounding countries.
More than 28 million people are meanwhile considered to be in need in drought-hit Afghanistan, which last year saw the Taliban sweep back into power, while another eight million Afghans and their hosts in the region also need assistance.
More than $5 billion has been requested to address that combined crisis, while further billions were requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the years-long conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
The appeal also highlighted the dire situation in Ethiopia, where worsening drought and a two-year-conflict in Tigray have left nearly 29 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Faced with such towering needs, Griffiths said he hoped 2023 would be a year of “solidarity, just as 2022 has been a year of suffering.”

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb
Updated 01 December 2022

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

MADRID: A security guard at Ukraine’s embassy in Madrid was lightly injured Wednesday while opening a letter bomb addressed to the Ukrainian ambassador, prompting Kyiv to boost security at its embassies.

The letter, which arrived by regular post, exploded in the early afternoon as the guard opened it in the embassy garden, said the central government’s representative in Madrid, Mercedes Gonzalez.

The guard was discharged from hospital later Wednesday and returned to work, Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain, Serhii Pohoreltsev, said.

In an interview with Spanish state television, Pohoreltsev appeared to blame Russia: “We are well aware of the terrorist methods of the aggressor country,” he said.

“Russia’s methods and attacks require us to be ready for any kind of incident, provocation or attack,” he added.

Spain’s National Police force were informed of an explosion at the embassy at around 1:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), a police source said.

The source said the guard was “lightly” injured and “went himself to a hospital” for treatment.

Police have opened an investigation “which includes the participation of forensic police,” the source said, without giving further details.

Police put a security cordon around the embassy, which is in a leafy residential area in northern Madrid.

A man who lives in front of the embassy, who asked not to be identified, told AFP he had heard the explosion.

“I thought it was gunshot. It was not too loud,” he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered the strengthening of security at all Ukrainian embassies, Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on social media after the letter bomb went off.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares spoke with the ambassador over the phone “to ask about the well-being of the Ukrainian worker who was injured,” the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Albares also contacted Kuleba by phone to express his “support and solidarity,” it added.

Later in the evening, a second “suspicious postal shipment” was intercepted at the headquarters of military equipment firm Instalaza in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, the interior ministry said.

Experts carried out a “controlled explosion” of the mailed item.

“Investigators are analizing the exploded device and checking if there are any links between this event and what happened this morning at the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid,” it added.

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings
Updated 30 November 2022

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings

Belgium starts trial over 2016 bombings
  • Prime French suspect in the dock confirmed his identity as proceedings began: ‘Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic’

BRUSSELS: Belgium launched its biggest-ever criminal trial on Wednesday, the landmark prosecution of alleged jihadists accused of directing or aiding 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels’ metro and airport that killed 32 people.

The prime French suspect in the dock confirmed his identity as proceedings began: “Abdeslam Salah, 33, electrical mechanic.”

Salah is already notorious after being convicted in a separate trial in France for his role in 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Only one of the nine defendants present, 30-year-old Osama Krayem, refused to stand as they were presented to the high-security court in the disused former headquarters of the NATO alliance.

A 10th suspect, 33-year-old Oussama Atar, is believed to have been killed in Syria.

Wednesday’s hearing kicked off jury selection from a huge poll of more than 1,000 citizens.

The court was to choose 12 jurors and 24 potential replacements who will need to attend near-daily sessions of a months-long process leading into next year.

On Dec. 5, the main evidential hearings will begin.

Both the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks and the March 22, 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels were claimed by the Daesh group, and investigators believe they were carried out by the same Belgium- based cell, including Abdeslam.

The group was planning more violence, allegedly including attacks on the Euro 2016 football cup in France, but acted quickly after Abdeslam was arrested on March 18. 

Four days later, on March 22, two bombers blew themselves up in Brussels airport and another in a city center metro station near the headquarters of the European Union.

Alongside those killed, hundreds of travelers and transport staff were maimed and six years on many victims, relatives and rescuers remain traumatized.

Five of the nine defendants to appear in the dock in Belgium have already been convicted in the French trial, including Abdeslam. He is serving life without parole in France and faces a further sentence in Belgium.

Hundreds of witnesses and victims will testify in the months to come, some still hope that telling the story of Belgium’s worst peace- time massacre will offer them a measure of closure.

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
Updated 30 November 2022

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE

India seeks urgent start to rupee-dirham trade with UAE
  • Reduces forex risks, US dollar reliance, says envoy
  • “Landmark model” for other nations if successful

NEW DELHI: The UAE and India are preparing to introduce bilateral transactions using local currencies, New Delhi’s envoy to Abu Dhabi said on Wednesday, with the move expected to boost the free trade deal between the two countries.

The UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner after the US and China, with a bilateral trade volume of $43.3 billion in 2020-21. It is also home to more than 3 million Indian expats, who send billions of dollars in remittances to their families each year.

In February, India and the UAE signed the landmark Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The pact, which went into force in May, reduces tariffs on almost 80 percent of all goods and provides zero-duty access to 90 percent of Indian exports.

India’s ambassador to the UAE, Sunjay Sudhir, told Arab News that the issue of trade settlements in local currencies was discussed during the 14th India-UAE Joint Commission meeting in Abu Dhabi in September.

Last week, it was also one of the major points of discussion when UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan visited New Delhi.

“Since then there has been progress, a concept paper has been submitted by the Indian side to the UAE side, discussions are ongoing between the Reserve Bank of India and the UAE Central Bank,” Sudhir told Arab News, adding that modalities would be finalized “as soon as possible.”

Trading in local currencies — in the Indian-UAE context the rupee and dirham — not only reduces transaction costs but also frees trade from dependence on the US dollar.

“Trade between India and the UAE is mostly invoiced in dollars, which can be an expensive affair for businesses on both sides, due to foreign currency conversion fees and exchange rate risk,” Anupam Manur, economics professor from the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, told Arab News.

He said for India it would also ease the pressure on the current account, halt the depreciation of the rupee and the depletion of forex reserves.

“This opens up the possibility of using a common payments system, such as UPI (Unified Payments Interface) to reduce the cost of remittances from Indians in (the) UAE and truly make capital flows easier,” Manur added.

“If the deal to trade in local currencies is successful then this would be a landmark deal and the model can be replicated with many other countries with which India has a strong trading relationship.”