Ranil Wickremesinghe, 73, is back as Sri Lankan PM for 6th time amid economic crisis

News Network
May 12, 2022

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Colombo, May 12: Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lanka's prime minister for the sixth time on Thursday, though the veteran politician has never completed a full term in office.

The 73-year-old's political career appeared to be drawing to a close before this week, when he agreed to helm a unity administration and help steer the South Asian island nation through a crippling economic crisis.

"This is a historic event," Tamil legislator Dharmalingam Sithadthan told AFP in reference to Wickremesinghe's latest return to the top office.

"This shows the desperate situation in our country."

Wickremesinghe is the sole parliamentary representative of the United National Party, a once-powerful political force that was nearly wiped out in Sri Lanka's last elections.

The former lawyer hails from a political family and his uncle Junius Jayewardene served as president for more than a decade.

But Wickremesinghe once told AFP he would have likely pursued a career as a journalist, had the government of the day not nationalised his family's newspaper business in 1973.

He was first appointed premier in 1993 after the assassination of then-president Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was killed in a bomb attack by Tamil Tiger guerrillas during Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war.

Underscoring the dynastic nature of Sri Lanka's politics, Premadasa's son Sajith is the current opposition leader and had also been touted as a possible prime ministerial candidate this week.

Wickremesinghe's first term in office lasted little more than a year.

He returned to power in 2001, earning a reputation for sound economic management after steering the country out of recession.

Conflict with the president saw him sacked before his term was over, and he spent the next decade in the political wilderness.

Wickremasinghe lost two presidential contests and led his party to a string of election defeats, prompting even his own supporters to dub him a "record loser".

He was nonetheless sworn in as prime minister again in 2015 after the election defeat of president Mahinda Rajapaksa after the opposition rallied behind him as a unity candidate against the authoritarian leader.

His "Mr Clean" image was muddied later that year when his administration was rocked by an insider trading scam involving central bank bonds.

A key accused in the multi-million dollar scam was the central bank chief at the time, Arjuna Mahendran, who was Wickremesinghe's schoolmate and choice for the job.

He was accused of cronyism during his tenure and failing to prosecute members of the previous Rajapaksa regime, members of which had been accused of graft, kickbacks and siphoning off public finances.

Political conflict with the powerful Rajapaksa family also threw the country into crisis in 2018, with Mahinda taking over the premiership for six weeks before the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

Wickremesinghe returns to office to replace Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators, and later had to be rescued from his residence by the military.

He will serve at the pleasure of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda's younger brother, who has fought off calls for his own resignation over the government's mismanagement of the economic crisis.

Wickremesinghe will be taking charge of a bankrupt nation in default of its $51-billion foreign debt and without money to import essential goods.

His status as a pro-West, free-market reformist could smooth bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors.

But he has already warned there will be no quick fix to the nation's unprecedented economic woes.

"The worst is yet to come. We have very high inflation now and hyperinflation is on its way," Wickremesinghe told parliament last week.

"We should start addressing the issues now, we can't put it off any longer," he added. 

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News Network
June 18,2022

Kabul, June 18: Several blasts and gunfire hit a Sikh Gurdwara in Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Saturday, according to media reports.

The blasts occurred in the Karta Parwan area of Kabul, Tolo news tweeted along with the video after the blasts. Gunfire was also reported from the area.

Karte Parwan Gurdwara is located in the area.

The casualties in the blast were unknown.

"We are deeply concerned at the reports emanating from Kabul about an attack on a sacred Gurudwara in that city. We are closely monitoring the situation and waiting for further details on the unfolding developments," the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi tweeted.

Abdul Nafi Takor, a Taliban-appointed spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, confirmed the attack but did not provide further details or say whether there were casualties, The Associated Press reported.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

The Islamic State group known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province has in the past claimed responsibility for attacks on mosques and minorities across the country.

"We heard a huge blast in Kart-e-Parwan neighbourhood at around 6 a.m. local time. The blast was followed by another explosion which occurred about half an hour after the first blast. The whole place has now been sealed off," China's state-run Xinhua news agency quoted an eyewitness as saying.

The security forces have cordoned off the area for precautionary measures, he said.

The blast sent a column of thick smoke into the sky and triggered panic, the witness said.

"There is fear of possible casualties. Several warning shots were also fired by the security forces," he added.

Community leaders estimate just 140 Sikhs remain in the Taliban-ruled country, mostly in the eastern city of Jalalabad and the capital Kabul.

In March 2020, at least 25 worshippers were killed and eight others injured when a heavily armed suicide bomber stormed a prominent gurudwara in the heart of Kabul, in one of the deadliest attacks on the minority Sikh community in the country.

The Islamic State terror group had claimed responsibility for the attack in the Shor Bazar area.

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News Network
June 26,2022

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Mumbai, June 26: Shiv Sena rebel leader Eknath Shinde met BJP's Devendra Fadnavis in Gujarat last night to discuss possible government formation in Maharashtra, sources have said. Team Thackeray, meanwhile, said it will "not forget the betrayal" done by the rebels.
    
Latest development

>> This morning, Sena's spokesperson Sanjay Raut took a swipe at the rebels, camping in BJP-ruled Assam. "How long will you hide in Guwahati," he asked in his tweet which included image of Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal, who has served notices to 16 rebel MLAs on the Sena disqualification plea.

>> Eknath Shinde flew to Vadodara on a special flight last night from Assam's Guwahati where he is camping with nearly 40 rebel MLAs. Home Minister Amit Shah was also in Vadodara last night, people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

>> After talks with Mr Fadnavis, Mr Shinde returned to the main city in BJP-ruled Assam. Mr Shinde and the rebels want to ally with their former partner, BJP, which they claim is a "natural ally" of the Sena.

>> "We are traditionally the rivals of NCP and Congress, they are our primary challengers in constituencies. We requested CM Uddhav Thackeray that natural alliance should be done," said rebel MLA Chimanrao Patil in a video tweeted by Eknath Shinde.

>> The rebels have said that they are still with the Shiv Sena and claim that they have a two-thirds majority. Rebel MLA Deepak Kesarkar further demanded recognition of their group 'Shiv Sena Balasaheb' and warned of going to court if it is not done and denied the role of the BJP behind their revolt.

>> Despite being reduced to a minority, Team Thackeray has maintained that it will win in the event of a trust vote. "You already know what was discussed in the meeting, the important thing is that we will not forget the betrayal done by rebel Shiv Sena MLAs. We (Shiv Sena) will win for sure," Aaditya Thackeray after a party meeting in Mumbai.

>> The Shiv Sena passed six resolutions at the National Executive meeting chaired by Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday. At the meeting at Sena Bhavan, Mr Thackeray was authorised to take action against the rebels. His side has also challenged a move by the rebels to call themselves "Shiv Sena Balasaheb Thackeray" in a letter to the Election Commission.

>> The ongoing battle for the control of the Shiv Sena between Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde played out on the streets of Maharashtra on Saturday with the cadres loyal to the Thackerays staging protests against the rebels by defacing their banners, throwing stones, and vandalising the office of an MLA in various parts of the state.

>> The Mumbai police has deployed its personnel at the city-based offices of various political parties and leaders, including ministers, MLAs and MPs, and their residences as a security measure, an official said on Saturday.

>> The prohibitory orders issued by the Mumbai police in the first week of June will continue to remain in place till July 10. It bans the assembly of five or more persons at one place.

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Agencies
July 1,2022

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New Delhi, July 1: India imposed a ban on many single-use plastics on Friday in a bid to tackle waste choking rivers and poisoning wildlife, but experts say it faces severe headwinds from unprepared manufacturers and consumers unwilling to pay more.

The country generates around four million tonnes of plastic waste per year, about a third of which is not recycled and ends up in waterways and landfills that regularly catch fire and exacerbate air pollution.

Stray cows munching on plastic are a common sight in Indian cities and a recent study found traces in the dung of elephants in the northern forests of Uttarakhand state.

Estimates vary but around half comes from items used once, and the new ban covers the production, import and sale of ubiquitous objects like straws and cups made of plastic as well as wrapping on cigarette packets.

Exempt for now are products such as plastic bags below a certain thickness and so-called multi-layered packaging.

Authorities have promised to crack down hard after the ban -- first announced in 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- came into effect.

Inspectors are set to fan-out from Friday checking that no suppliers or distributors are flouting the rules at risk of a maximum fine of 100,000 rupees ($1,265) or five-year jail sentence.

Around half of India's regions have already sought to impose their own regulations but as the state of rivers and landfill sites testifies, success has been mixed.

Firms in the plastics industry, which employs millions of people, say that alternatives are expensive and they have been lobbying the government for a delay to the ban.

Pintu, who earns his living hacking the top of coconuts with a machete and serving them to customers with a plastic straw, doesn't know what he will do.

Switching to "expensive paper straws will be tough. I will likely pass the cost to the customers," he told AFP in New Delhi.

"I've heard it'll help the environment but I don't see how it'll change anything for us," he added.

GlobalData analysts said small packs with plastic straws make up 35 per cent of soft drinks volumes, meaning manufacturers will be "badly hit".

"(The) price-sensitive masses are unable to foot the bill for eco-friendly alternatives," Bobby Verghese from GlobalData added.

Jigish N. Doshi, president of industry group Plastindia Foundation, expects "temporary" job losses but said the bigger issue was firmed "which had invested huge capital for machines that may not be useful" after the ban.

"It's not easy to make different products from machines and the government could help by offering some subsidies and helping develop and purchase alternative products," Doshi told AFP.

Satish Sinha from environmental group Toxics Link told AFP that "there will be initial resistance" as finding replacements may be hard but it was a "very welcome step".

"There will be difficulties and we may pay the price but if you're serious about the environment, this is an important issue that needs a concerted push," he said.

One young company trying to be part of the change is Ecoware, which makes disposable bio-degradable products at its factory outside Delhi.

Chief executive Rhea Mazumdar Singhal told AFP that the appalling state of landfills and widespread plastic consumption inspired her venture.

"We've seen plenty of bans before, but as citizens the power lies with us," Singhal said. 

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