Sri Lanka cuts workweek for public employees

Sri Lanka cuts workweek  for public employees
Sri Lanka approved a four-day workweek for public sector employees to help them cope with a chronic lack of fuel and encourage them to grow food at home. (AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2022

Sri Lanka cuts workweek for public employees

Sri Lanka cuts workweek  for public employees
  • Country of 22 million has about 1 million public sector employees

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government approved on Tuesday a four-day workweek for public sector employees to help them cope with a chronic lack of fuel and encourage them to grow food at home, as the country struggles with the worst shortages of basic commodities in decades.

The island country of 22 million, which defaulted on international debts of more than $50 billion last month, has been facing a severe shortfall in imports of essential goods, including fuel and food.

The country has about 1 million employees in the public sector, many of whom have struggled to travel to their offices as transportation has been upended by fuel shortages.

Starting this week, all public sector employees — excluding those in essential services such as health, utilities, education, transport and defense — will get an additional holiday on Fridays until at least September, and will receive training in farming to help avert a looming food crisis.

“The Cabinet of Ministers has given its approval to close all government institutions except agencies providing essential services on Fridays for the next three months,” the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.

“It was decided to provide the government officials with the necessary facilities to engage in agricultural activities in their backyards or elsewhere as a solution to the looming food shortage.”

Currency depreciation and rising global commodity prices pushed food inflation in Sri Lanka to 57 percent in April.

Officials have been looking for ways to boost domestic production since the government warned of a food crisis by August.

Public sector workers encouraged to start farming say they will try to help.

Three days in a week will give me ample opportunity to grow our own veggies and fruits at home,” Chaminda Jayalal, administrative assistant at the Western Province governor’s office in Colombo, told Arab News.

But not all, despite their will to get involved, may have the space to do so.

“Most of the public servants who are attached to government offices in the capital of Colombo are living in small, rented houses, as well as flats and apartments that do not have places for such cultivation,” Ashraff A. Samad, public relations officer at the Department of National Housing, said.

“The government should give us arable lands in the nearby rural areas for such cultivation. Such an arrangement will give us an incentive to do larger scale cultivation in rural lands from Friday to Sunday.”

Local authorities say they are planning to step in. The Colombo administration said that it has already started to provide land for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

“To support the government’s efforts to grow food, our Colombo Municipal Council has identified some 10 acres of bare lands and gardens within the municipal limits,” Colombo Deputy Mayor Mohammed Thulba Mohammed Iqbal told Arab News

“We are also requesting owners of bare lands in the Colombo city to lease out them for the same purpose,” he said.

Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s agriculture minister called on all citizens to start growing food in their home gardens, as the country is expecting shortages of rice — a staple source of food.

Local rice production has dropped in Sri Lanka after a government decision last year to ban all chemical fertilizer. Although the ban has been lifted, the country was unable to secure fertilizer imports for the current cultivation season.

Sri Lanka needs at least $3 billion in emergency funds this year and its leaders have been trying to negotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund.

In May, the IMF began technical discussions with the government, and a new round of talks is expected this month.


Jordan King Abdullah II meets Japan PM, mourns late Abe

Jordan King Abdullah II meets Japan PM, mourns late Abe
Updated 58 min 24 sec ago

Jordan King Abdullah II meets Japan PM, mourns late Abe

Jordan King Abdullah II meets Japan PM, mourns late Abe
  • The two leaders agreed to continue working together to ensure long-term stability and peace in the Middle East region

DUBAI: Jordan’s King Abdullah II paid his respects to former Japanese Prime Minister ABE Shinzo during a summit meeting with current Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio on Tuesday.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, King Abdullah II, who attended the state funeral, said that Abe was a great friend of not only Jordan but also the region and shared the hope to develop the bilateral relationship based on his legacy.

Kishida expressed his hope to hold discussions to further develop the diplomatic legacy inherited from the late Abe.

The two leaders exchanged views on the regional situation including the Middle East Peace. Kishida expressed his concern about the impact of the price hike of food and fuel on Jordan, which is hosting a large number of Palestinian refugees, and stated that Japan would continue its support for Jordan, including its support to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA.)

Kishida also congratulated King Abdullah II Crown Prince Hussein’s engagement and expressed his wish for the long-lasting prosperity of the Jordanian Royal Family and further development of friendly relations with Japan’s Imperial Family.

The two leaders agreed to continue working together to ensure long-term stability and peace in the Middle East region.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan. 


Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 61

Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 61
Updated 27 September 2022

Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 61

Bangladesh pilgrim boat tragedy death toll hits 61
  • Incident on Sunday near the northern town of Boda the deadliest in years
  • Mobile phone footage showed the overcrowded boat suddenly flipping over

BODA, Bangladesh: Rescuers and navy divers recovered 10 bodies Tuesday after a boat overloaded with religious pilgrims capsized in Bangladesh, police said, taking the death toll to 61 as anxious relatives waited for news of several people who were still missing.
The incident on Sunday near the northern town of Boda was the deadliest in years in the South Asian country, which is crisscrossed by rivers where overcrowding on aged vessels is common.
Seventeen of those killed were children, authorities said, with video footage suggesting some were as young as around four years old.
The small vessel on its way to a popular temple flipped over in a river as onlookers screamed from the shore, in horrific scenes captured on cellphones.
Boda police chief Sujay Kumar Roy said rescue workers including firefighters, navy divers and villagers were searching for miles downstream on the Karotoa River, where the tragedy occurred.
The boat was carrying around 90 people, of whom around 50 were pilgrims on their way to the centuries-old Hindu temple for a major festival, according to police.
“We resumed the search this morning and rescuers found a few more bodies downstream and also under the water... Still a few more people are missing,” Roy said.
Abdur Razzaque, a police inspector, said at least 30 of the dead were women.
“A committee has been formed to probe the incident,” he said.
Dozens of relatives of the missing people were still crowding the riverbank on Tuesday, although most had left after authorities handed over their family members’ bodies.
“Three women of my family were missing since the boat capsized,” said one distraught relative, Bikash Chandra, late on Monday.
“We found one in the morning around 10:00 am, who was rescued earlier. But I couldn’t find the other two yet.”
District police chief Sirajul Huda said Monday the boat was carrying three times its permitted capacity.
“The boatman asked some people to disembark in an effort to ease the weight-load. But no one listened,” he said.
Mobile phone footage aired by TV station Channel 24 showed the overcrowded boat suddenly flipping over, spilling the passengers into the muddy brown river.
Dozens of people watching from the shore started shouting and screaming. The weather was calm at the time.
Thousands of Hindus in Muslim-majority Bangladesh visit the famous Bodeshwari Temple every year.
Sunday marked the start of Durga Puja, a major Hindu festival drawing large crowds at the temple.
Last December, around 40 people perished when a packed three-story ferry caught fire in southern Bangladesh.
A ferry sank in Dhaka in June 2020 after a collision with another vessel, killing at least 32 people.
And at least 78 people perished in 2015 when an overcrowded ship collided with a cargo vessel in a river west of the capital.


Ukrainians involved in Russian-backed referendums face treason charges, prison term

Ukrainians involved in Russian-backed referendums face treason charges, prison term
Updated 27 September 2022

Ukrainians involved in Russian-backed referendums face treason charges, prison term

Ukrainians involved in Russian-backed referendums face treason charges, prison term
  • Ukrainians who were forced to vote would not be punished
  • Moscow hopes to annex the provinces of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia

KYIV, Ukraine: Ukrainians who help Russian-backed referendums to annex large swathes of the country will face treason charges and at least five years in jail, Ukraine’s presidential adviser said, as voting in four regions entered its last day.
“We have lists of names of people who have been involved in some way,” presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak said in an interview with Swiss newspaper Blick.
“We are talking about hundreds of collaborators. They will be prosecuted for treason. They face prison sentences of at least five years.”
Podolyak said Ukrainians who were forced to vote would not be punished. Ukrainians officials have reported ballot boxes being taken door to door and residents being coerced into voting in front of Russian-backed security.
Moscow hopes to annex the provinces of Kherson, Luhansk, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, in the east and south, which make up about 15 percent of Ukraine.
None of the provinces are fully under Moscow’s control and fighting has been under way along the entire front line, with Ukrainian forces reporting more advances since they routed Russian troops in a fifth province, Kharkiv, earlier this month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons to protect Russian soil, which would include the four provinces if annexed.
Voting on whether to join Russia began on Friday in the regions and is due to end on Tuesday, with the Russian parliament possibly approving the annexation within days.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that Putin is likely to announce the accession of the occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation during his address to parliament on Sept. 30.
Kyiv and the West have dismissed the referendums as a sham and pledged not to recognize the results.


Japan ex-PM Shinzo Abe’s state funeral underway

Japan ex-PM Shinzo Abe’s state funeral underway
Updated 27 September 2022

Japan ex-PM Shinzo Abe’s state funeral underway

Japan ex-PM Shinzo Abe’s state funeral underway
  • More than 700 foreign guests and over 40 state leaders are expected at the state funeral today

DUBAI/TOKYO: Japan began a controversial state funeral for assassinated former prime minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday, with his widow Akie carrying his ashes into a Tokyo hall where thousands of mourners gathered.

Dressed in a black kimono, Akie carried the ashes in a box covered with a decorative fabric into the Budokan venue as a 19-gun salute sounded in honour of the slain ex-premier.

More than 700 foreign guests and over 40 state leaders were expected at the state funeral today. 

Dignitaries include Jordan’s King Abdullah II, US Vice President Kamala Harris, India’s PM Narendra Modi, Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, Philippines Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio, Indonesia Vice President Ma’ruf Amin, and European Council President Charles Michel.

The streets of Budokan where the state funeral will take place have been closed since early morning, and according to sources, many police officers from other parts of Japan are present. 

Mourners have already started queuing pay their respects to Abe, at a sectioned area that has been set up near the Budokan funeral hall venue for members of the public to leave flowers and tributes.

The funeral is stated to have cost 1.65 billion yen (or about $11.4 million) with many Japanese opposed to the state event.

On Monday, around 10,000 protestors marched through the streets of Tokyo demanding the funeral be called off.

– with AFP

This article originally appeared on Arab Jews Japan.


Women in power across Europe

(From L to R) Danish Prime Minster Mette Frederiksen, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
(From L to R) Danish Prime Minster Mette Frederiksen, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
Updated 27 September 2022

Women in power across Europe

(From L to R) Danish Prime Minster Mette Frederiksen, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
  • Truss is Britain’s third woman prime minister after “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, who was in charge from 1979 to 1990, and Theresa May, who governed from 2016 to 2019 — all Conservatives

PARIS: Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni looks set to join a group of over a dozen European women who hold the top political jobs in their country following her party’s victory in Sunday’s general election.
Here is the list of women presidents and prime ministers, which does not include Ursula von der Leyen, who became the first woman president of the European Commission in December 2019:

(From L to R) Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid, Giorgia Meloni of Italy and Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani. (Agencies)

In Britain, which is part of Europe but no longer part of the EU, Liz Truss became the new prime minister on September 6. Truss had won the leadership race of the ruling Conservative Party, automatically making her leader of the country after Boris Johnson’s resignation in July.
Truss is Britain’s third woman prime minister after “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, who was in charge from 1979 to 1990, and Theresa May, who governed from 2016 to 2019 — all Conservatives.

Social Democrat leader Mette Frederiksen became her country’s youngest-ever prime minister in June 2019 when she was elected premier at the age of 41.
Denmark’s first woman prime minister was Helle Thorning-Schmidt, also from the Social Democrats, who served from 2011 to 2015.

Former EU auditor Kersti Kaljulaid, 52, became the first female president of the Baltic state of Estonia in October 2016. The position is a largely ceremonial one.
Kaja Kallas in January 2021 became Estonia’s first woman prime minister. Her father Siim Kallas was prime minister from 2002-2004.

In December 2019, Sanna Marin, a Social Democrat, became the youngest sitting prime minister in the world at the age of 34.
Finland’s third female prime minister has been in the headlines recently over pictures of her dancing and partying with friends.

Elisabeth Borne, a 61-year-old engineer, was named French prime minister in May, becoming only the second woman to hold the position after Edith Cresson, a Socialist, who held the job for less than a year in the early 1990s.

Katerina Sakellaropoulou, a trailblazing lawyer, was elected Greece’s first female president in January 2020.
While the presidency is a mainly ceremonial role in Greece, Sakellaropoulou had already broken new ground in the judiciary by becoming president of the country’s top court in 2018.

Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and former minister for family policy, was elected Hungary’s first ever woman president in March 2022.
The presidency is a largely ceremonial role.

Lithuanian former finance minister Ingrida Simonyte, a 47-year-old rock and ice hockey fan, was appointed prime minister of a center-right government in December 2020.
Lithuania has a strong tradition of female leadership, with “Baltic Iron Lady” Dalia Grybauskaite spending a decade in power from 2009 to 2019.

Liberal lawyer and anti-graft campaigner Zuzana Caputova, 48, took office in June 2019 as Slovakia’s first woman president.
A political novice, she had comfortably beaten the ruling party’s candidate in elections. In Slovakia, the president has less power than the prime minister but can veto laws and appointments of senior judges.

Despite being a country that champions gender equality, Sweden never had a woman as prime minister before Magdalena Andersson, a Social Democrat, who won the top job in November 2021.
She resigned on September 14, 2022 after an unprecedented right-wing and far-right bloc narrowly won the election.

Elsewhere in Europe, outside the EU, other women currently in power are: Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Kosovo’s president Vjosa Osmani, Moldova’s president and prime minister Maia Sandu and Natalia Gavrilita, Serbia’s openly-gay prime minister Ana Brnabic, and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.