Monthly Archives: January 2015
COLOMBO: The constitutional makeover which the Sirisena government hopes to bring about in its first 100 days, includes a proposal to slash the Presidential term from six years to five.
This was announced by President Maithripala Sirisena at a public meeting in his native district of Polonnaruwa on Monday.
Sirisena said that he had suggested a four term (as in the US) but the constitutional expert who is working on the changes, said that having a Presidential election every four years would be expensive and a decision to opt for a five year term was made.
Sirisena has already declared that he will not seek a second term, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had sought a third term and amended the constitution to make it possible.
Justifying a shorter term in office, Sirisena recalled that the first post-Apartheid South African President, Nelson Mandela, had brought about radical reforms in his five year term in office.
Extending a hand of friendship to his electoral opponents, Sirisena said: ” My policy is to consider those who opposed me at the election as friends as Mandela did, and get them involved in the process of building the country.”
He further said that political affiliation will not be a criterion for giving posts in his government.
“Posts will be given to individuals considering their suitability, efficiency, honesty and qualifications only,” he stressed.
COLOMBO: Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has slammed the on-going media blitz against him and has charged that the vilification campaign is meant to mislead the public.
In a letter to the Buddhist Maha Sangha and Lankans at large, Rajapaksa said that the accusation that he sought the Attorney General’s advice on how to remain in power illegally, is by its very nature, an “absurdity”.
“I was saddened by the comments made about this alleged incident and other matters by the incumbent President (Maithripala Sirisena) at a rally in Polonnaruwa,” he added.
About the TV images of the interior of his official residence “Temple Trees” which “insinuated” that he and his family had led an extravagant lifestyle at state expense, he said that these facilities had been created to cater to foreign delegates during the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in accordance with international specifications.
About the accusation that his wife Shiranthi was trying to sell 100 kilos of gold belonging to the government Treasury, he pointed out that the police had already responded to that “ridiculous” allegation.
On the search for hidden Lamborghinis, Rajapaksa said: “Vehicles that even remotely resemble sports cars are being taken by the police from the houses of their owners in their search for Lamborghinis belonging to my sons. But no Lamborghinis have been found.”
“Two containers of personal belongings of my family have been examined by the police on suspicion of being items ‘stolen’ from Temple Trees. These items were stored in containers because I had no place to go to in Colombo after vacating my official residence,” he said.
On alleged shady deals with foreign project contractors, Rajapaksa said that all agreements had been vetted by the Attorney General and approved by the cabinet. Many parties were involved in these projects and with so many eyes watching them, it would be impossible to inflate costs, Rajapaksa argued.
Pointing out that Chinese aided projected are being specially targeted, Rajapaksa said that China has helped Sri Lanka for six decades, and suggested that such mud-slinging be stopped.
“Outrageous and totally unsubstantiated accusations against me were disseminated through various websites and social media networks such as facebook both before and after the election. I self-critically admit that my government did not take these baseless allegations seriously and counter them in time.However, I am confident that the truth will prevail one day,” the former President said.
A “potentially historic” blizzard could dump 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 centimeters) of snow on a large part of the US Northeast, crippling a region that has largely been spared so far this winter, the National Weather Service said on Sunday. Hundreds of cancelled flights were expected.
A blizzard warning was issued for New York and Boston, and the National Weather Service said the storm would bring heavy snow and powerful winds starting Monday and into Tuesday.
“This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.
De Blasio held up a piece of paper showing the city’s top 10 snowstorms and said this one could land at the top of a list that goes back to 1872, including the 26.9 inches (68.3 centimeters) that fell in 2006. “Don’t underestimate this storm. Prepare for the worst,” he said as he urged residents to plan to leave work early on Monday.
Around 1,200 flights scheduled for Monday are expected to be cancelled, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware. The storm promised treacherous travel by both land and air throughout the busy northeast corridor.
Boston was expected to get 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 centimeters) of snow, and Philadelphia could see 14 to 18 inches (35 to 45 centimeters), the weather service said. The Washington, D.C., area was expected to get a coating or a bit more.
In New York, transit officials planned to use modified subway cars loaded with de-icing fluid to spray the third rail that powers trains.
COLOMBO: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Union (EU) have undertaken to help the Sri Lankan government repatriate Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu and resettle them in the Island Nation, the Lankan Ministry of Resettlement has said.
Assurance of aid was given to the Lankan Minister for Resettlement, D M Swaminathan, when he met local representatives Gulam Abbas and Igor Ivancic of the UNHCR, and Jaime Royo-Olid and Libuse Soukupova of the EU, here last week, a Ministry statement said.
The EU has already built 23,000 houses in the Tamil-speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces and an additional 3,000 houses are to be built. The EU has set aside Euro 14 million for this project in 2015. There are still 26,056 internally displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Modi, Sirisena Keen
Repatriation of the refugees from India and the resettlement of the existing internally displaced persons in Lanka will both be taken up ‘on a priority basis’, as part of the Maithripala Sirisena government’s 100-day program, the Resettlement Ministry said. The programme to repatriate Lankan Tamil refugees from Tamil Nadu was discussed when Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on January 19. Last week, the Lankan cabinet issued a statement saying the matter will be discussed during Modi’s talks with Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe when he visits Colombo in mid-March. Both governments have assured that repatriation will be voluntary.
Claim Land Rights
“The refugees have to go back to reclaim their lost rights in Sri Lanka. Repatriation is essentially a Mannai Meetpom (Recover our Land) movement,” explained S C Chandrahasan of the Chennai-based Organization for Elangai Refugees’ Rehabilitation (OfERR).
US newspapers have hailed the breakthrough on the Indo-US nuclear deal after talks between US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi. But Chinese media do not seem too comfortable with the Modi-Obama bear hug.
Here is what the 6 papers said:
1. New York Times: Obama Clears a Hurdle to Better Ties With India
“President Barack Obama and his Indian counterpart broke through a five-year impasse on Sunday to pave the way for American companies to build nuclear power plants here as the two countries sought to transform a fraught geopolitical relationship into a fresh partnership for a new era of cooperation.
Opening a three-day visit amid pomp and pageantry, Mr. Obama moved to clear away old disputes that have stalled progress toward an alignment between the world’s largest democracies, a goal that has eluded the last three American presidents. Few obstacles to that have been more nettlesome in recent years than the deadlock over nuclear power.”
2. Washington Post: Obama, India’s Modi claim breakthrough on nuclear issues
“President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Sunday that the two countries have made progress toward resolving nuclear issues at the start of a three-day visit that is heavy on pageantry and symbolism. Obama said the two countries have reached a “breakthrough understanding” that would make it easier for U.S. and foreign firms to invest in Indian nuclear power plants. Indian law holds suppliers, designers and builders of plants liable in case of an accident, making companies loath to invest in the country’s nuclear plants, and the two governments have not agreed on how to track nuclear material.
The understanding, though short on specifics, moves toward resolving one of a number of nuclear-related issues that have hamstrung the countries for years and has prevented the implementation of a landmark nuclear deal reached during the George W. Bush administration.”
3. USA Today: Obama, India’s Modi cite nuclear investment breakthrough
“President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saidSunday they reached “a breakthrough understanding” in freeing up U.S. investment in nuclear energy development in India, as Obama began a three-day visit to India.
Picking up from a stalled 2008 civil nuclear agreement between the two countries, the deal would allow U.S. firms to invest in energy in India. It also resolves a dispute over U.S. insistence on tracking fissile material it supplies to the country and over Indian liability provisions that have discouraged U.S. firms from capitalizing on the agreement. The White House said the understanding on India’s civil nuclear program resolves the U.S. concerns on both tracking and liability. “In our judgment, the Indians have moved sufficiently on these issues to give us assurances that the issues are resolved,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.”
4. Wall Street Journal: U.S. and India Advance Nuclear Trade
“President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said they made tangible progress on a range of issues with movement on civil nuclear trade defense cooperation and climate change.With pageantry on full display, Mr. Obama was scheduled to appear at India’s annual Republic Day parade on Monday, a first for a U.S. leader. But the results of talks on key trade and security issues were more nuanced.Mr. Obama described a “breakthrough” in long-stalled talks on allowing U.S. firms to invest in nuclear power plants in India. But U.S. officials said work remains on implementation by India, and some U.S. corporate officials said they are evaluating the outcome of the talks in New Delhi.”
5. Los Angeles Times: Narendra Modi dismisses calls for India to match China’s climate goal
“The United States and India sought to put a contentious history behind them Sunday by declaring a new partnership on climate change, security and economic issues, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected calls for India to match China’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As President Obama opened a three-day visit to New Delhi aimed at underscoring the two democracies’ shared ideals, Modi’s blunt dismissal of a sweeping climate agreement reflected the limits of Washington’s assiduous courtship of the popular new prime minister.
Even as Obama announced “a breakthrough understanding” that could clear the way for U.S. companies to build nuclear power plants in India – potentially reducing India’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels – Modi said he felt “no pressure” from any other country to curtail the South Asian nation’s carbon emissions.”
6. Global Times (China): India, China mustn’t fall into trap of rivalry set by the West
“A second visit by a sitting US president to India, the first time on record, has undoubtedly drawn wide attention from the international community. However, the tricky part of so much attention is that, as we watched Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi greet US President Barack Obama with a bear hug at Delhi airport on Sunday, many eyes, naturally, have turned to a third party – China.
Many reports by Western media have pointed out that the US, regardless of historical complications, is putting more efforts into soliciting India to act as a partner, even an ally, to support Washington’s “pivot to Asia” strategy, which is mainly devised to counter China’s rise. As for India, which has ambitions to be a major power, it needs US investment, technologies and political support so that its “Look East” foreign policy will better function to counterbalance China’s growing influence.”
COLOMBO: Breaking tradition, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will be the Chief Guest at the Indian Republic Day reception at India House here Monday evening.
Normally, Heads of State or Government do not attend National Day functions at foreign missions, but the Indian High Commission here invited Wickremesinghe and he agreed to come, breaking tradition.
Initially, the Chief Guest was to be Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, but the minister had to go away to Brussels to plead for the lifting of European Union sanctions against Sri Lankan fishermen.
Inviting the Lankan Prime Minister to the Republic Day reception and his acceptance of the invitation, reflect the current bonhomie between India and Sri Lanka, officials said.
Unique Year in India-Lanka Ties
Speaking at the morning function meant exclusively for Indian nationals living in Sri Lanka, High Commissioner Y.K.Sinha noted that this year’s Republic Day function in Colombo is being held after landmark national-elections in India and Sri Lanka which had thrown up new governments.
In Indo-Lanka relations, 2015 will be noted for unprecedented back to back visits at the highest levels. Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will be in India on February 14 and 15, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be in Sri Lanka on March 14 and 15.
Modi’s coming to Lanka will be the first official visit of an Indian Prime Minister since Rajiv Gandhi came to sign the landmark India-Sri Lanka Accord in July 1987 to settle the ethnic question in the island nation. Other Indian Prime Ministers had visited Lanka, but only to attend multilateral meetings.
High Commissioner Sinha said that the relations between India and Sri Lanka will get deeper and stronger with ties being strengthened in economic and other areas.
Sirisena to Visit Thirupathi
During his sojourn in India, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will be visiting the Buddhist pilgrimage center of Bodh Gaya and the Hindu pilgrimage center of Thirupathi, officials said.
Sinhalese Buddhists consider Lord Vishnu as the “Guardian of Sri Lanka” and accept Lord Venkateswara as an avatar of Vishnu. Former Presidents J.R.Jayewardene had prayed at Thirupathi once and Mahinda Rajapaksa several times.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set out plans for reform, admitting that it was too slow to respond to the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
At an emergency session in Geneva, director-general Margaret Chan said Ebola had taught the world and the WHO how they must act in the future, BBC reported.
She said the corner had been turned on infections but warned over complacency.
More than 8,500 people have died in the outbreak, the vast majority in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Chan said: “This was West Africa’s first experience with the virus and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises.
“The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us. Ebola is a tragedy that has taught the world, including WHO, many lessons about how to prevent similar events in the future.”
The WHO says patient database figures give the best representation of the history of the epidemic.
However, data for more recent weeks are sometimes less complete than in the regular situation reports.
Liberia announced Friday that it was down to just five confirmed cases – there were 500 a week in September. Guinea and Sierra Leone have both also experienced falls in infection rates.
Chan said the worst-case scenario had been avoided, but warned: “We must maintain the momentum and guard against complacency and donor fatigue.”
WHO figures show 21,724 reported cases of Ebola in the outbreak, with 8,641 deaths.
Indian-American Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has called for a “spiritual revival” to “fix” the ailments plaguing America as the rising Republican star courted Christian conservatives in advance of a possible presidential run in 2016 to succeed incumbent Barack Obama.
In a 15-minute speech at a controversial Christian evangelical rally, Jindal said: “We can’t just elect a candidate to fix what ails our country. We can’t just pass a law and fix what ails our country,” he said in Baton Rouge, capital of the US state of Louisiana.
“We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country,” Jindal, the 43-year-old leader, said while skipping an Iowa event yesterday that drew a number of Republican presidential hopefuls for the White House.
Jindal, who was raised by Hindu parents, described his conversion to Catholicism in high school, though the self- described “evangelical Catholic” did not reference his denomination as he spoke to the crowd of mostly evangelical Protestants.
Jindal also recalled a girl in high school who said she wanted to grow up to be a Supreme Court justice, so she could “save innocent human lives” from abortion.
It was his second major speech in a week to touch on religion. In London on Monday, he told an Anglo-American think-thank Muslims had established “no-go zones” in a number of European cities. Those comments attracted criticism, though Jindal refused to back down.
Jindal had insisted the day-long evangelical event hosted by the American Family Association on the campus of Louisiana State University was a religious and not political gathering.
But Jindal’s keynote address at the event came as he has been courting Christian conservatives in advance of a possible run for president, meeting with pastors in the early battleground states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Former Texas governor Rick Perry hosted the same event, known as “The Response,” in 2011, just before announcing he was running for president, The Washington Post noted.
“Let’s all go plant those seeds of the gospel,” he said, describing how his conversion would not have occurred without the influence of his friends. “Share the good news with all whom we encounter.”
London : Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II is now the world’s oldest monarch following the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Abdullah (90), who passed away on Friday, was two years older than the Queen, who will be 89 in April this year.
She is one of the eight octogenarian monarchs in the world, the others including the King of Thailand and the Emperor of Japan.
An anecdote has also emerged on Twitter about the Queen’s interaction with the former Saudi monarch based on the memoirs of former Saudi ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles.
It refers to a visit to the Queen’s Balmoral Castle in Scotland in 1998 when she offered to show the then Crown Prince Abdullah around her Scottish Estate.
“To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not — yet — allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a Queen,” Cowper-Coles writes.
“His nervousness only increased as the Queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead,” it adds.
The Queen is also the second-longest reigning monarch in British history, behind her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, whose record she is due to surpass in September 2015.
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has recalled 29 non-foreign service envoys in order to lessen the politicization of its diplomatic corps at the top level.
Thirty five out of the country’s 65 missions overseas have been under non-foreign service envoys, many of whom being relatives or supporters of politicians, including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
They had been appointed without tests or examinations only to serve the political constituencies or the families of the powers-that-be.
However, the envoys in New Delhi and Washington have been left untouched in the current shake-up. While the Lankan Ambassador in Washington, Prasad Kariyawasam, is a retired career diplomat, and is not an outsider as such, the High Commissioner in India, Prof Sudarshan Seneviratne, is expected to continue at his post at least until the completion of two high-level visits in February-March. President Sirisena is to visit India in February, and Prime Minister Narendera Modi is to come to Sri Lanka in March.
Prof Seneviratne and some others could even stay on for a long period because the Lankan government is not thinking of doing away with the practice of appointing non-foreign service persons lock, stock and barrel.
The earlier norm was to give 60 per cent of the posts to career diplomats and 40 per cent to others. The Sirisena government has raised the career diplomats’ share to 70 per cent. This is in reaction to the excessive recruitment of non-foreign service people during the Rajapaksa regime.
At the end of Rajapaksa’s nine year rule, 54 per cent of the envoys were non-career diplomats, a very high share even by the Lankan yardsticks.