Sri Lankan woman rickshaw driver has to queue 12 hours, or more, for fuel

Sri Lankan woman rickshaw driver has to queue 12 hours, or more, for fuel
Lasanda Deepthi, 43, an auto-rickshaw driver for local ride hailing app PickMe, talks to other drivers as they wait in a queue to buy petrol at a fuel station in Gonapola town, on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 23, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 May 2022

Sri Lankan woman rickshaw driver has to queue 12 hours, or more, for fuel

Sri Lankan woman rickshaw driver has to queue 12 hours, or more, for fuel
  • Deepthi is one of millions of people in Sri Lanka battling galloping inflation, falling incomes and shortages of everything from fuel to medicine

GONAPOLA, Sri Lanka: Lasanda Deepthi, a 43-year-old Sri Lankan woman, plans her day around fuel queues.
The driver of an auto-rickshaw on the outskirts of the commercial capital Colombo, she keeps a close eye on the petrol gauge of her sky-blue three-wheeler before accepting a job to make sure she has enough fuel.
When the needle is close to empty, she joins the line outside a gas station. Sometimes, she waits through the night for petrol and when she does get it, it costs two-and-a-half times the amount it did eight months ago.
Deepthi is one of millions of people in Sri Lanka battling galloping inflation, falling incomes and shortages of everything from fuel to medicine as the country reels under its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
A woman auto-rickshaw driver is a rare sight on the island of 22 million people off the southern coast of India.
But it’s a job Deepthi has done for seven years to support her family of five, by using local ride-hailing app PickMe.
Since the financial crisis hit, she has been scrambling to find adequate petrol and earn enough as rides dwindled and inflation surged past 30 percent year-on-year.
Her monthly income of about 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($138) started falling from January and is now less than half of what she used to earn.
“I spend more time in line for petrol than doing anything else,” Deepthi said. “Sometimes I join a line about 3 p.m. but only get fuel about 12 hours later.
“A couple of times I made it to the front of the queue only to have the fuel run out,” she added as she made tea in her small, two-bedroom rented house in Gonapola, a small town on the outskirts of Colombo, where she lives with her mother and three younger brothers.
She is separated from her spouse and has a married daughter.
In mid-May, Deepthi said she spent two-and-a-half days in a queue for petrol, assisted by one of her brothers.
“I don’t have words to describe how terrible it is,” she said, “I don’t feel safe sometimes in the night but there is nothing else to do.”
In a now familiar routine on one recent morning, she changed her clothes, filled a bottle of water, wiped down her auto-rickshaw and lit an incense stick to seek divine blessings before getting into the vehicle.
Her mission, like most days, is to find petrol, prices of which have soared 259 percent since October 2021, as the government slashed subsidies to try and stabilize a teetering economy.
The roots of Sri Lanka’s current crisis lie in the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated the lucrative tourism industry and sapped foreign workers’ remittances, and populist tax cuts enacted by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.
Angry at the widespread shortages and accusing the powerful Rajapaksa family of mishandling the economy, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Sri Lanka in recent months to stage mostly peaceful demonstrations.
New Prime Minister Ranil Wickrememsinghe, who was also appointed as the country’s finance minister last week, plans to introduce a budget in six weeks that will cut expenditure “to the bone” and route it to a two-year welfare program.
His policies are also expected to push forward negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a badly-needed loan package.
But Deepthi is disillusioned.
The car she bought with her savings had to be sold last year after she fell short on lease payments.
A second auto-rickshaw, usually driven by one of her brothers, needs repairs, which the family can barely afford. She is more than 100,000 rupees behind on loan payments for a piece of land she bought before the pandemic.
Deepthi also wants to visit her three-month-old grand-daughter but is not sure how she can travel 170 km (105 miles) to the seaside town of Matara where her daughter, a nurse, lives.
“I can barely afford enough rice and vegetables for my family,” she said. “I can’t find medicines my mother needs. How will we live next month? I don’t know what our future will be like.”


Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
Updated 05 December 2022

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
  • A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017
  • The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned

GENEVA: Embattled Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan will go on trial for rape in Geneva next year, over a case dating back more than 14 years, the prosecution said on Monday.
A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017.
The Geneva judiciary said in the current case Ramadan had been charged with rape and sexual coercion, and would be tried before the Geneva criminal court, confirming information first published by Swiss broadcaster RTS.
The accuser in this case, named simply “Brigitte” by Swiss media, has accused the now 60-year-old scholar of brutally attacking her on the evening of October 28, 2008.
The Muslim convert, who had met Ramadan a month earlier during a book signing, accuses him of subjecting her to sexual attacks, beatings and insults in a Geneva hotel room.
She waited a decade before coming forward, filing her complaint in April 2018.
Her lawyer, Francois Zimeray, told AFP his client was fearful as she brought the case.
“She feels no desire for revenge but is relieved and is putting her faith in the institutions,” he said, adding that he expected the trial to take place during the first half of 2023.
Ramadan’s lawyer, Guerric Canonica, meanwhile alleged on Monday that the prosecution had simply “copied the complaint without considering disqualifying elements.”
“It is now up to the judges to re-establish Mr. Ramadan’s complete innocence and we are serenely waiting for our day in court,” he told AFP.
Ramadan, who has previously filed a complaint against Brigitte for slander, is a father of four whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement in 2017.
The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned.
After he was released in November 2018, he was put on probation and barred from leaving France.
Swiss prosecutors went to Paris to question him, and once the probation was partially lifted, Ramadan traveled to Geneva for witness hearings in 2020.


Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
Updated 05 December 2022

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
  • Lot included jewel-encrusted skull of Arab chieftain slaver killed in 1893

LONDON: An auction house in Brussels has delisted three African and Arab skulls that were set for bidding following a backlash against the sale, The Times reported on Monday.

Drouot and Vanderkindere listed the three items — including one jewel-encrusted skull of an Arab slaver killed in 1893 — alongside paintings, coats, and other antiques.

The skulls date back to Belgium’s period of colonization in Africa. An estimated 10 million people died as a result of Belgian expansion, with the Congo in particular being subject to widespread violence.

The Arab skull of Munie Mohara, a chieftain slaver, was believed to have been taken as a prize by Belgian steelers following his death.

Earlier this year Belgium passed a law to return looted artifacts to the Congo. A government committee was expected to propose the return of human remains held in the European country.

Following the sale delisting, the auction house said: “We in no way support the suffering and humiliation that people were subjected to during the colonial period. We apologize to anyone who feels hurt by this sale.”

Colonial Memory and the Fight Against Discrimination, a campaign group, filed a complaint over the auction.

The group’s co-coordinator, Genevieve Kaninda, said: “It is as if people are being killed a second time. The colonial violence keeps repeating itself.”


Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill

Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill
Updated 05 December 2022

Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill

Seoul: North Korea fires over 100 artillery rounds in military drill
  • Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border
  • South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year

SEOUL: North Korea fired around 130 artillery shells into the sea off its east and west coasts on Monday, South Korea’s military said, in the latest apparent military drill near their shared border.
Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border in what Seoul said was a violation of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement designed to reduce tensions.
The South Korean military sent several warning communications to the North over the firing, the ministry of defense said in a statement.
North Korea did not immediately report on the artillery fire, but it has been carrying out an increasing number of military activities, including missile launches and drills by warplanes and artillery units.
South Korea and the United States have also stepped up military drills this year, saying they are necessary to deter the nuclear-armed North.
The 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) was the most substantive deal to come from the months of meetings between leader Kim Jong Un and then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
With those talks long stalled, however, recent drills and shows of force along the fortified border between the Koreas have cast doubts on the future of the measures. South Korea has accused the North of repeatedly violating the agreement with artillery drills this year.
This year North Korea resumed testing of its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017, and South Korea and the United States say it has made preparations to resume nuclear testing as well.


Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
Updated 05 December 2022

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases

Chinese cities relax testing rules as zero COVID-19 policy eases
  • Local authorities have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years
  • Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases

BEIJING: Businesses reopened and testing requirements were relaxed in Beijing and other Chinese cities on Monday as the country tentatively eases out of a strict zero COVID-19 policy that sparked nationwide protests.
Local authorities across China have begun a slow rollback of the restrictions that have governed daily life for years, encouraged by the central government’s orders for a new approach to fighting the coronavirus.
In the capital Beijing, where many businesses have fully reopened, commuters from Monday were no longer required to show a negative virus test taken within 48 hours to use public transport.
Financial hub Shanghai — which underwent a brutal two-month lockdown this year — was under the same rules, with residents able to enter outdoor venues such as parks and tourist attractions without a recent test.
Neighboring Hangzhou went a step further, ending regular mass testing for its 10 million people, except for those living in or visiting nursing homes, schools and kindergartens.
In the northwestern city of Urumqi, where a fire that killed 10 people became the catalyst for the recent anti-lockdown protests, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and ski resorts reopened on Monday.
The city of more than four million in the far-western Xinjiang region endured one of China’s longest lockdowns, with some areas shut from August until November.
Authorities in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, and Shandong scrapped the testing requirement for public transport on Sunday.
And Zhengzhou — home to the world’s largest iPhone factory — on Sunday said people will be allowed to enter public places, take public transport and enter their residential compounds without a 48-hour negative test result.
The World Health Organization has cheered China’s loosening of its zero COVID-19 policy, which came after hundreds took to the streets across the country to call for greater political freedoms and an end to lockdowns.
While some COVID-19 rules have been relaxed, China’s vast security apparatus has moved swiftly to smother further rallies, boosting online censorship and surveillance of the population.
And as officials have dismantled testing facilities, long queues have appeared around those that remain, forcing residents to wait in cold temperatures to get tests that remain obligatory across much of China.
“Students can’t go to school without a 24-hour negative test,” wrote a user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“What’s the point in closing testing booths before dropping the need to show test results completely?” another asked.
Chinese authorities on Monday reported 29,724 new domestic COVID-19 cases.


Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
Updated 05 December 2022

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report

Growth in arms trade stunted by supply issues: report
  • The growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues
  • Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production

STOCKHOLM: Sales of arms and military services grew in 2021, researchers said Monday, but were limited by worldwide supply issues related to the pandemic, with the war in Ukraine increasing demand while worsening supply difficulties.
The top 100 arms companies sold weapons and related services totalling $592 billion in 2021, 1.9-percent more than the year before, said the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
However the growth was severely impacted by widespread supply chain issues.
“The lasting impact of the pandemic is really starting to show in arms companies,” Nan Tian, a senior researcher at SIPRI, told AFP.
Disruptions from both labor shortages and difficulties in sourcing raw materials were “slowing down the companies’ ability to produce weapons systems and deliver them on time.
“So what we see really is a potentially slower increase to what many would have expected in arms sales in 2021,” Tian said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also expected to worsen supply chain issues, in part “because Russia is a major supplier of raw materials used in arms production,” said the report’s authors.
But the war has at the same time increased demand.
“Definitely demand will increase in the coming years,” Tian said.
By how much was at the same time harder to gauge, Tian said pointing to two factors that would impact demand.
Firstly, countries that have sent weapons to Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars will be looking to replenish stockpiles.
Secondly, the worsening security environment means “countries are looking to procure more weapons.”
With the supply crunch expected to worsen, it could hamper these efforts, the authors noted.
Companies in the US continue to dominate global arms production, accounting for over half, $299 billion, of global sales and 40 of the top companies.
At the same time, the region was the only one to see a drop in sales: 0.9 percent down on the 2020 figures.
Among the top five companies — Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — only Raytheon recorded an increase in sales.
Meanwhile, sales from the eight largest Chinese arms companies rose 6.3 percent to $109 billion in 2021.
European companies took 27 of the spots on the top 100, with combined sales of $123 billion, up 4.2 percent compared to 2020.
The report also noted a trend of private equity firms buying up arms companies, something the authors said had become increasingly apparent over the last three or four years.
This trend threatens to make the arms industry more opaque and therefore harder to track, Tian said, “because private equity firms will buy these companies and then essentially not produce any more financial records.”