Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies
Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence, as a dire shortage of foreign exchange has stalled imports and left the country short of fuel, among others. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies
  • Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India reached Sri Lanka on Monday
  • New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor two days earlier

COLOMBO: Long queues snaked around gas stations in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and its outskirts on Monday even though the island nation’s government was scrambling to deliver fuel supplies and douse any unrest as it battles a devastating economic crisis.
Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka’s minister for power and energy, said supplies of 95-octane gasoline, mostly used in cars, had been received and were being distributed across the country of 22 million people that has been struggling with fuel shortages for months.
“With the 2 cargo vessels unloaded, petrol stocks will be available for the next 6 weeks comfortably,” Wijesekera said in a tweet.
Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India had also reached Sri Lanka on Monday, the Indian High Commission (Embassy) said, two days after New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor.
Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence, as a dire shortage of foreign exchange has stalled imports and left the country short of fuel, medicines and hit by rolling power cuts.
The financial trouble has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering the tourism-reliant economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister this month.
M. Sudeera, an auto-rickshaw driver, was waiting in a two-kilometer (1.5-mile) -long queue at Kumbuke, on the outskirts of Colombo, to fill his vehicle, a popular form of public transport in the city and its suburbs.
“Last time, I spent two days in line for 3,000 rupees ($8.46) worth of fuel. With that I did a few hires but it’s barely enough to cover costs,” Sudeera said, standing beside parallel queues of auto-rickshaws, cars and motorcycles.
“Usually we run during the day and spent the night in line for fuel,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over as prime minister earlier this month, has warned of hardship worsening over the coming months, including food shortages.
Protests against the government’s handling of the crisis have continued for weeks, and erupted into violence earlier this month in which nine people were killed and over 300 injured. But the protests have been peaceful since then, although anger against the government is high.
Inflation in the island nation rose to 33.8 percent in April, compared to 21.5 percent in March, according to government data released on Monday.
Wickremesinghe’s cabinet was expanded on Monday, with eight new ministers sworn in for portfolios including agriculture, fisheries, industries, transport and highways, water supply and irrigation.


Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur
Updated 7 sec ago

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur

Muslim World League holds first conference of Asian ulama in Kuala Lumpur
  • More than 1,000 participants arrived from Saudi Arabia and 16 Asian countries
  • Conference was opened by Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob

KUALA LUMPUR: Participants from 17 countries gathered in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday for the first conference of Asian religious scholars organized in Malaysia by the Muslim World League to unite efforts addressing extremist ideologies.

The MWL is an international non-governmental Islamic organization founded in Saudi Arabia in 1962, that focuses on promoting and clarifying the worldwide understanding of Islam. It is headquartered in Makkah and maintains offices around the world.

More than 1,000 participants arrived from Saudi Arabia and countries including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

The conference was opened by Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysian Religious Affairs Minister Idris Ahmad and MWL Secretary-General Sheikh Dr. Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa.

“We feel proud and lucky that the MWL has chosen Malaysia to host the conference, which of course is a recognition to our country, which highlights Islam as a harmonious, safe and prosperous religion in a multi-racial and multi-religious society,” Yaakob said, adding that the meeting was taking place at a time when Muslims are still facing various challenges, including disputes among themselves, provocation, and Islamophobia.

The meeting will pave the way for the establishment in Kuala Lumpur a permanent council under the umbrella of the MWL.

Al-Issa said that the council’s first session was planned next year. The conference aims at developing educational tools and initiatives to foster collaboration and solidarity, especially among young and emerging leaders, to combat extremist ideology and what the MWL said in a statement were “artificial differences that sometimes exist” in politically diverse societies.

“With the efforts of the scholars, multi-pronged activities are being carried out to counter extremism in all parts of the world,” Al-Issa told Arab News on the sidelines of the conference. “We are hopeful that such efforts will bear fruits in due course and help wipe out extremism totally.”

He said that the MWL had chosen multiethnic Malaysia as it is “well known for its harmonious life.

“It is an ideal region for the propagation of harmony and peaceful coexistence among Muslims and non-Muslims,” he added.

“The attendance in large numbers bears eloquent testimony to the enthusiasm of the people and religious scholars to work towards peace, harmony, and coexistence.”


Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history
Updated 30 June 2022

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history

Marcos Jr. takes oath as president, vows ‘fresh chapter’ in Philippine history
  • Rise to power comes 36 years after his dictator father was forced from office in a bloodless popular uprising
  • New leader promises economic transformation, education reform and support for millions of overseas Filipino workers

MANILA: Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was sworn in as president of the Philippines on Thursday, vowing to open a new chapter in the country’s history, almost four decades after his dictator and namesake father was ousted in a popular uprising.
Marcos Jr., 64, scored a landslide victory in May’s presidential election, winning almost 60 percent of the vote after promising unity, prosperity and happiness to the 110 million population weary of years of political polarization and pandemic hardship. 
His rise to power comes 36 years after his father was removed from office by the bloodless popular revolt known as People Power. The dictator had ruled the country with an iron fist for two decades — an era marred by martial law, widespread corruption and human rights abuses.
For years, Marcos Jr. has sought to rehabilitate the family name by portraying his father’s rule as an age of prosperity. But while he mentioned infrastructure projects built at the time, he distanced himself from the past in his inaugural address.  
“In this fresh chapter of our history, I extend my hand to all Filipinos,” he said during a ceremony at the steps of the National Museum in Manila. “I am here not to talk about the past. I am here to tell you about our future.”
In the 25-minute speech, Marcos Jr. covered plans for economic transformation, education reform, improvement of food sufficiency, infrastructure development, energy supplies, pollution, waste management, as well as support for millions of overseas Filipino workers.
“Come, let us put our shoulders to the wheel and give that wheel a faster turn to repair and to rebuild and to address challenges in new ways to provide what all Filipinos need, to be all that we can,” the incoming president said, adding that he seeks dialogue and to “listen respectfully to contrary views.”
Marcos’ thematic speech, which covered all issues, came as a surprise since he has little direct experience on the political scene.
“He took up all things, he even had something to say on climate change,” Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila, told Arab News.
However, Casiple added that he will reserve judgment until Marcos speaks before Congress.
“By then, he will already have concrete proposals. That’s more important for me.”
The political analyst believes Marcos’ references to the future were attempts at charting “his own path,” not merely a continuation of his father’s.
“I’ve already noticed that during the campaign. He was avoiding talking about martial law and he was also avoiding debates. He doesn’t want to be treated as a son to the father in terms of his programs. His inaugural speech was basically his own,” Casiple said. “There’s hope.”
However, the new administration, despite the unity pledge, is likely to be a polarizing one due to the historical burden the Marcos family carries, according to political sociologist Prof. Frederick Rey.
“A polarizing administration in the sense that there is what I call the natural enemy of the Marcoses. This may be viewed as a love affair, a Filipino love affair, but on the other side of it, there is also a natural enemy when we talk about the dark history of the Philippines, as mentioned in our textbooks,” Rey said in a TV interview.
“This really is a difficult administration.”


Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
Updated 30 June 2022

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection

Belgium chocolate factory shut after salmonella infection
  • Contamination is investigated at Barry Callebaut company
  • All chocolate products made at the plant placed on hold

BRUSSELS: A huge Belgian chocolate factory has halted production after detecting salmonella in a batch of chocolates.
The Barry Callebaut company said Thursday that its plant in Wieze – which it says is the world’s largest chocolate factory – shut down all production lines as a precaution while the contamination is investigated.
Barry Callebaut produces chocolate for multiple brands sold around the world.
The salmonella was detected Monday, and all chocolate products made at the plant were placed on hold pending investigation, the company said. It identified lecithin, an emulsifier routinely used in making chocolates, as the source of the contamination.
The company said it informed Belgian food safety authorities and is contacting customers who might have contaminated products in their possession.
It is unclear whether any consumers have reported being sickened by the chocolates.
Earlier this year, at least 200 reported cases of salmonella were believed linked to chocolate Easter eggs made in another Belgian plant operated by Italian company Ferrero.


Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas
Updated 30 June 2022

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas

Thousands in Khartoum rally against military rule, authorities fire teargas
  • Pro-democracy medics said one demonstrator was shot dead “by a bullet in the chest” Wednesday night
  • Troops and police blocked off roads leading to both army headquarters and the presidential palace

KHARTOUM: Security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades as thousands of anti-coup protesters took to the streets of the Sudanese capital Khartoum and its suburbs Thursday demanding an end to military rule, AFP correspondents said.
“Down with Burhan’s rule,” protesters chanted in north Khartoum, urging the reversal of an October military coup by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan that prompted foreign governments to slash aid, deepening a chronic economic crisis.
“Even if we die, the military will not rule us,” they cried.
Pro-democracy medics said one demonstrator was shot dead “by a bullet in the chest” Wednesday night, in small-scale protests in the run-up to the main rallies.
More than 100 people have been killed in protest-related violence, according to UN figures, as the military has cracked down on the anti-coup movement over the past eight months.
An AFP correspondent said Internet and phone lines had been disrupted since the early hours of Thursday, a measure the Sudanese authorities often impose to prevent mass gatherings.
Security was tight in Khartoum despite the recent lifting of a state of emergency imposed after the coup.
Troops and police blocked off roads leading to both army headquarters and the presidential palace, witnesses said.
Shops around the capital were largely shuttered.
Activists have been calling for “million-strong” rallies.
UN special representative Volker Perthes said Thursday that “violence needs to end,” while the US embassy in Khartoum urged restraint and “the protection of civilians so that no more lives are lost.”

Sudan’s foreign ministry has repeatedly criticized the UN envoy’s comments, saying they were built on “assumptions” and “contradict his role as facilitator” in troubled talks on ending Sudan’s political crisis.
The latest protests come on the anniversary of a previous coup in 1989 that toppled the country’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by Islamist-backed general Omar Al-Bashir.
They also come on the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals, who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year, cede power to civilians.
Those protests led to the formation of the mixed civilian-military transitional government which was toppled in last year’s coup.
Sudan has been roiled by near-weekly protests as the country’s economic woes have deepened since Burhan seized power last year.
“June 30 is our way to bring down the coup and block the path of any fake alternatives,” said the Forces for Freedom and Change, an alliance of civilian groups whose leaders were ousted in the coup.
Alongside the African Union and east African bloc IGAD, the United Nations has been attempting to broker talks between the generals and civilians, but they have been boycotted by all the main civilian factions.
The UN has warned that the deepening economic and political crisis has pushed one third of the country’s population of more than 40 million toward life-threatening food shortages.


Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island

Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island
A ship carrying 7,000 tons of grain has sailed from Ukraine’s port of Berdyansk. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 June 2022

Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island

Ship with 7,000 tons of grain leaves Ukraine port as Russia pulls forces from Snake Island
  • The Russian defense ministry said the withdrawal was a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products

MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday began shipping grain from Ukraine’s occupied territory, with a vessel carrying 7,000 tons of cereal sailing from Ukraine’s occupied port of Berdyansk.
Kyiv has for weeks accused Russia and its allies of stealing its grain from southern Ukraine, contributing to a global food shortage caused by grain exports blocked in Ukrainian ports.
Until now shipments have been transported by land, Kyiv says.
Thursday’s grain shipment from the port of Berdyansk marks the opening of a sea route to export wheat from Ukraine to third countries.
“After numerous months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the Berdyansk commercial port, 7,000 tons of grain are heading toward friendly countries,” Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Russia administration, said on Telegram.
Russia’s Black Sea ships “are ensuring the security” of the journey, he said, adding that the Ukrainian port had been demined.
Balitsky did not specify the final destination of the cargo.
Berdyansk is a port city on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov, in the region of Zaporizhzhia in southeastern Ukraine.
The southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have been largely under Russia’s control since the first weeks of Moscow’s military intervention, and are now being forcefully integrated into Russia’s economy.
The pro-Moscow officials in the two Ukrainian regions claim that they have “nationalized” state infrastructure and property there and buy their crops from local farmers.
A representative of the pro-Moscow authorities, Vladimir Rogov, told state news agency RIA Novosti that 1.5 million tons of grain can be exported via Berdyansk.
Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, a country known as Europe’s breadbasket, has pushed up food prices and led to shortages, as Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports prevents millions of tons of grain from being shipped out.
The crisis has sparked fears of famine in vulnerable countries highly reliant on Ukrainian exports, particularly in Africa.
Russia insists that it will let Ukraine ship its grain if Kyiv forces demine sea lanes.
Kyiv fears Russia will launch an attack on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
Talks involving Turkey and the UN have brought no results so far.
On Thursday, Russia said it had pulled its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island, calling it a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products.
Russia, the largest wheat exporter in the world, has said it is facing difficulties in exporting its own grain due to unprecedented Western sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine.
Pro-Moscow officials in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are hoping that the occupied territories could stage a referendum and join Russia in the near future.
On Wednesday, pro-Russian authorities said they were launching bus and train services between Moscow-annexed Crimea and the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
The pro-Moscow administration of the Kherson region also announced the opening of a branch of Russian Pension Fund responsible for paying state pensions.
Putin has said Russian forces will not occupy Ukraine.
The Kremlin claims local residents will choose their own future, suggesting they are in favor of a referendum on the status of Ukraine’s occupied territory.