Sri Lanka president’s brother quits Parliament amid crisis

Sri Lanka president’s brother quits Parliament amid crisis
Basil Rajapaksa, one of the brothers of Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, gestures as he leaves after he announced that he had resigned from parliament, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo on Thursday. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 June 2022

Sri Lanka president’s brother quits Parliament amid crisis

Sri Lanka president’s brother quits Parliament amid crisis
  • He told a news conference he had submitted a letter to give up his Parliament seat
  • “The crisis was there even when I took over,” he said

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Basil Rajapaksa, the younger brother of Sri Lanka’s president and the country’s former finance minister, said he resigned from Parliament on Thursday.
This comes amid mounting criticism of his alleged role in dragging the island nation into its worst economic crisis in memory.
He told a news conference he had submitted a letter to give up his Parliament seat but insisted that he was not solely responsible for the country’s economic hardships.
“The crisis was there even when I took over,” he said. “I did my best with all my strength.”
Rajapaksa, a member of the powerful political family that has ruled Sri Lanka for much of the past two decades, served as finance minister from July last year until April, when he resigned with other ministers over the government’s failure to resolve the economic situation.
He said Thursday that successive governments that ruled Sri Lanka since the 1950s deserve blame too because “they took loans and spent them” without taking steps to avert a crisis.
The resignation could be seen as a severe blow to the Rajapaksa dynasty, which has faced growing public outrage. Protesters have occupied the entrance to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office for more than 50 days demanding his resignation, saying the primary responsibility for the economic crisis rests with him and his family, who they accuse of corruption and mismanagement.
The protests drove another family member, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, from office last month amid nationwide violence that saw his supporters attack peaceful protesters. One of the president’s other siblings and a nephew also resigned from their Cabinet posts but still serve as lawmakers.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka’s president from 2005 to 2015.
Basil Rajapaksa said Thursday he would not be involved in government anymore but vowed to “continue political work.”
Sri Lanka is nearly bankrupt with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in a foreign debt default. The country announced last month that it is suspending nearly $7 billion in foreign debt repayments due this year out of about $25 billion due by 2026. Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt stands at $51 billion.
For months Sri Lankans have endured shortages of food and fuel, power outages and other privations. The country lacks the financial wherewithal to buy imported necessities and pay its debts.
Authorities have started discussions with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package and have asked the IMF to lead a conference to unite Sri Lanka’s lenders.


Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton
Updated 22 sec ago

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

Iranian operative charged in plot to murder John Bolton

WASHINGTON: A member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards force has been charged in an attempted plot to murder John Bolton, who was national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, the US Justice Department said on Wednesday.
Iranian national Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, “attempted to pay individuals in the United States $300,000 to carry out the murder in Washington, D.C., or Maryland,” the Justice Department said.


Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
Updated 10 August 2022

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says

Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader says
  • The 45-year-old recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at "the left" and defends her fight for "stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy"
  • Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League

ROME: Fascism is history, Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni declared Wednesday in a video message aimed at international critics alarmed by her predicted victory in September 25 elections.
The 45-year-old, whose Brothers of Italy party is topping opinion polls, recorded a monologue in English, Spanish and French that rails at “the left” and defends her fight for “stability, freedom and prosperity for Italy.”
“I have been reading that the victory of Fratelli d’Italia in the September elections would mean a disaster, leading to an authoritarian turn, Italy’s departure from the euro and other nonsense of this sort. None of this is true,” she said in the video sent to international journalists.
She also condemned as “absurd” the notion she would put at risk far-reaching structural reforms agreed with the European Union in return for billions of euros in post-pandemic recovery funds.
Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
But she insisted in her video: “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”
Brothers of Italy was the only main party not to join the national unity government formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021 — and has since seen its poll ratings soar.
Since the coalition collapsed and Draghi resigned last month, it has remained in pole position with around 23 percent of support.
Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, but reiterated this week she plans to be prime minister if her party comes out on top.
Her rise has prompted a slew of negative headlines at home and abroad, to which her team is starting to respond, including with an interview to Fox News in English last month.
Meloni emphasises her Christian and family values, backs more defense spending, lower taxes and an end to mass immigration.
In her video, she says the “Italian conservatives” she leads are “a bastion of freedom and defense of Western values.”
While backing the EU’s tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she is highly critical of the bloc and has ties to Spain’s Vox and Poland’s Law and Justice parties.
In her video, she emphasised the “shared values” with Britain’s Conservatives, the US Republicans and Israel’s Likud.


Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
Updated 10 August 2022

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers

Sri Lanka introduces bill to clip presidential powers
  • If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan government minister on Wednesday submitted to Parliament a constitutional amendment bill that would clip the powers of the president, a key demand of protesters calling for political reforms and solutions to the country’s worst economic crisis.
Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakshe presented the bill, which would transfer some presidential powers — including those to appoint independent election commission members, police and public service officials, and bribery and corruption investigators — into the hands of a constitutional council comprising lawmakers and respected non-political persons. The council would then recommend candidates for these appointments that the president could choose from.
Under the proposed amendments, the president also would only be able to appoint a chief justice, other senior judges, an attorney general and a central bank governor on the recommendation of the council. The prime minister would recommend appointments to the Cabinet and the president would not be allowed to hold any ministry positions except defense.
The bill, which will undergo debate, must be approved by two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s 225-member Parliament to become law.
If passed into law, the amendments would reinstate democratic reforms made in 2015. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was ousted as president by angry protests last month, reversed those reforms and concentrated power in himself after being elected to office in 2019.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has promised to limit the powers of the presidency and strengthen Parliament in response to the protesters’ demands.
Sri Lankans have staged massive street protests for the past four months demanding democratic reforms and solutions to the country’s economic collapse.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa family’s alleged mismanagement and corruption for the economic crisis that has led to serious shortages of essentials like medicines, food and fuel.
The island nation is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout program.
The protests have largely dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore last month after angry protesters stormed his official residence and occupied several key state buildings. His older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May and three other close family members resigned from their Cabinet positions before him.


Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat
Updated 10 August 2022

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

ATHENS: Dozens of migrants are reported missing from a sunken boat after Greece’s coast guard rescued 29 in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday.
The rescued migrants said their boat had set out from Antalya, Turkey, heading toward Italy with 60 to 80 people aboard, according to a coast guard spokesperson.
It had capsized and sunk off the island of Karpathos in the southern Aegean, spokesperson Nikos Kokkalas told state television. The search and rescue operation had begun in the early morning hours amid strong winds, he added.
The rescued migrants were Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis, another coast guard official said on condition of anonymity.
Greece was at the front line of a European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, when a million refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in the country, mainly via Turkey.
The number of migrant arrivals has fallen sharply since then. But Greek authorities say they have recently seen a sharp increase in attempted entries through the country’s islands and land border with Turkey.


Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions
Updated 10 August 2022

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions
  • Manila, a longtime Washington ally, agreed in November to pay $228 million for the Mi-17 helicopters

MANILA: The Philippines has scrapped an order for 16 Russian military helicopters, an official confirmed Wednesday, following reports former president Rodrigo Duterte decided to cancel it due to US sanctions on Moscow.
Manila — a longtime Washington ally — agreed in November to pay $228 million (12.7 billion pesos) for the Mi-17 helicopters, as it seeks to modernize its military hardware.
The United States and its allies imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow in the wake of its assault on Ukraine in February.
They are aimed at cutting off Russia from the global financial system and choking off funds available to Moscow to finance the war.
The Philippine defense department was “formalizing the termination” of the contract, spokesman Arsenio Andolong said Wednesday.
Without mentioning US sanctions on Moscow, Andolong said “changes in priorities necessitated by global political developments resulted in the cancelation of the project by the previous administration.”
Delfin Lorenzana, who served as defense secretary under Duterte, said in March that the Philippines had paid a deposit for the transport helicopters before war erupted in Ukraine and the deal was “on track.”
But last week Lorenzana, who now heads a different government agency, told local media that Duterte himself decided to cancel the deal in the waning days of his administration over the sanctions threat.
“I don’t know if we can still get back the money since we were the ones who terminated the contract,” Lorenzana told reporters.
Russian embassy officials in Manila could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez recently told AFP the decision to cancel was triggered by “the Ukrainian war.”
Romualdez said Manila was also wary of falling foul of a US law passed in 2017 that sanctions anyone doing business with Russia’s intelligence or defense sectors.
The United States was offering “alternative helicopters to meet our needs,” he added.
Manila began a modest military modernization program in 2012. Until recently, its equipment featured Vietnam War-era helicopters and World War II naval vessels used by the United States.
After President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took power on June 30, the new government reviewed the Russian deal, arriving at the same decision as Duterte.