Saudi Islamic scholar arrested over Easter bombings in Sri Lanka

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Saudi scholar arrested over Easter bombings in Sri Lanka

Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Centre for Islamic Guidance, which boasts a mosque, a religious school and a library in Zahran’s hometown of Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shores.

WORLD Updated: May 13, 2019 10:46 IST

Reuters
Reuters
Kattakudy, Sri Lanka
The government says Zahran, a radical Tamil-speaking preacher, was a leader of the group.(AFP FILE/ Representative Image)

Sri Lankan authorities have arrested a Saudi-educated scholar for what they claim are links with Zahran Hashim, the suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday bombings, throwing a spotlight on the rising influence of Salafi-Wahhabi Islam on the island’s Muslims.

Mohamed Aliyar, 60, is the founder of the Centre for Islamic Guidance, which boasts a mosque, a religious school and a library in Zahran’s hometown of Kattankudy, a Muslim-dominated city on Sri Lanka’s eastern shores.

“Information has been revealed that the suspect arrested had a close relationship with … Zahran and had been operating financial transactions,” said a police statement late on Friday.

The statement said Aliyar was “involved” with training in the southern town of Hambantota for the group of suicide bombers who attacked hotels and churches on Easter, killing over 250 people.

A police spokesman declined to provide details on the accusations.

Calls to Aliyar and his associates went unanswered. Reuters was unable to find contact details for a lawyer.

The government says Zahran, a radical Tamil-speaking preacher, was a leader of the group.

Two Muslim community sources in Kattankudy told Reuters his hardline views were partly shaped by ultra-conservative Salafi-Wahhabi texts that he picked up at the Centre for Islamic Guidance’s library around 2-3 years ago. The sources are not affiliated with the centre.

“I used to always run into him at the centre, reading Saudi journals and literature,” said one of the sources.

During that time, Zahran started criticising the practice of asking God for help, for instance, arguing that such pleas were an affront to pure Islam.

“That kind of teaching was not in Sri Lanka in 2016, unless you read it in Salafi literature,” the source added, requesting anonymity to avoid repercussions in Kattankudy.

Salafism, a puritanical interpretation of Islam that advocates a return to the values of the first three generations of Muslims and is closely linked to Wahhabism, has often been criticised as the ideology of radical Islamists worldwide.

Wahhabi Islam has its roots in Saudi Arabia and is backed by its rulers, although Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has committed the kingdom to a more moderate form of Islam.

Other than the fact that Zahran visited the centre, the sources in Kattankudy said they did not know of any personal ties between him and Aliyar.

Aliyar founded the centre in 1990, a year after he graduated from the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, in what one resident said marked a key moment in the spread of Salafi doctrine in Kattankudy. The centre was partly funded by Saudi and Kuwaiti donors, according to a plaque outside.

TROUBLEMAKER

Reuters spoke to three members of the centre’s board before Aliyar’s arrest. They asked to remain anonymous, citing security concerns amid a backlash against some Muslims.

They said Zahran was a troublemaker and that they had warned authorities about his extremist views. The members said they thought Zahran frequented the library around a decade ago, but had no recollection of him visiting recently and denied that any of its books were to blame for his views.

Funding for the center came from local donations, student fees, and private donors who were classmates of Aliyar’s in Riyadh, the centre’s sources said. Reuters was unable to immediately determine further details about the funding of the centre.

The Saudi government communications office in Riyadh did not respond to requests for comment on the funding of the centre.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

First Published: May 12, 2019 14:25 IST

Sri Lanka Attacks: Relatives Of Key Suspect Zahran Hashim Killed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Sri Lanka attacks: Relatives of key suspect Zahran Hashim killed

Sri Lankan army personnel stand guard at a checkpoint as they search people and their bags at a check point in Kattankudy near Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, 28 AprilImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Searches have been carried out in Kattankudy

The father and two brothers of the alleged organiser of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, Zahran Hashim, were killed in a security forces operation on Friday, police say.

Hashim, who blew himself up at a hotel in Colombo, founded an Islamist group, the NTJ, which has now been banned.

Police have raided the group’s HQ in the eastern town of Kattankudy.

The Sri Lankan president has announced a ban on face coverings, aimed at Muslim women following the attacks.

The attacks targeted churches and hotels, killing at least 250 people.

Sunday church services were cancelled across the country as a precaution but worshippers in the capital gathered to pray outside St Anthony’s, which was badly damaged in the attacks.

How did Hashim’s relatives die?

Security forces raided a house in Sainthamaruthu, near Hashim’s hometown Kattankudy, on Friday.

Gunmen opened fire as troops moved in, police say, and three men set off explosives, killing themselves, six children and three women. Three other people died in gunfire.

The headquarters of the NTJ under police guardImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionPolice sealed off the NTJ’s headquarters on Sunday

A close family relative confirmed for BBC News that Hashim’s father and two brothers died in the raid.

Police sources who spoke to Reuters news agency named the three men as Mohamed Hashim, and his sons Zainee Hashim and Rilwan Hashim.

All three had been seen in a video circulating on social media calling for all-out war against all non-believers, Reuters adds.

In Kattankudy itself, police searched the headquarters of the NTJ (National Thawheed Jamath), which Zahran Hashim had led.

Presentational grey line

‘Safe house’ discovered by chance

By Anbarasan Ethirajan, BBC News, Sainthamaruthu

GV of house that was raided
Image caption The safe house was discovered after local people alerted police

When I entered the house where the Islamists and their families were killed on Friday evening, the smell of death was unbearable.

A police officer at the site also said Zahran Hashim’s mother was also believed to be among the victims.

Security forces have been conducting raids across the country but this safe house was discovered by chance, when the suspicious house owner and local people alerted the police.

Every day, police are making arrests, seizing weapons, explosives and jihadist material suggesting the radicalisation process, however small it may be, has been happening over a period of time. If the security agencies had missed this, then it is a colossal failure.

The ongoing raids and discovery of weapons and material are gradually building up tensions among the communities. A hotel owner said she was worried because she was a Catholic. Muslims say they are nervous to visit Sinhala-majority areas. Some foreign governments have warned that there is a possibility of further attacks and if those happen, fragile ethnic relations could be further strained.

Presentational grey line

Announcing the ban on face coverings, which will begin on Monday, President Maithripala Sirisena said he was taking the emergency measure on national security grounds.

The announcement made no specific mention of the niqab and burka – worn by Muslim women – but instead said people’s faces should be fully visible so they could be identified.

What happened on Easter Sunday?

Sri Lanka has been on high alert since a co-ordinated wave of bombings last Sunday, which also wounded more than 500 people.

The bombings targeted churches that were packed full for the Easter holiday, as well as hotels popular with tourists.

As well as St Anthony’s Shrine, bombers struck churches in Negombo and the eastern city of Batticaloa, and hotels in the capital, Colombo.

Most of those killed were Sri Lankan, but dozens of foreign citizens were also among the dead.

Media caption‘This is Sri Lanka’: Fighting back with peace

While the authorities have blamed the NTJ for the attacks, they say they must have had help from a larger network.

The Islamic State group, which carried out mass attacks on civilians in Paris and other locations in recent years, has said it was involved, but has not given details.

How are the victims being remembered?

Christians in Sri Lanka prayed at home while the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, held a televised Mass, attended by the president and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He called the attacks an “insult to humanity” in the service, broadcast from a chapel in his residence.

Media caption Sri Lankans pray and light candles, one week after a string of bombings by Islamist militants

“Today during this Mass we are paying attention to last Sunday’s tragedy and we try to understand it,” he said.

“We pray that in this country there will be peace and co-existence and understanding each other without division.”

Scores of people gathered for the public service outside St Anthony’s, where Buddhist monks joined Catholic priests in a show of solidarity with the Christian community.

Crowds of people watched the heavily-guarded church from behind a barricade, with some singing hymns and passing rosary beads through their hands.

Many lit candles and placed them in a makeshift memorial for the victims.

The church’s bells tolled at 08:45 (03:15 GMT) – the exact moment a bomber detonated his device one week ago.

The hands of its damaged clock tower are still stuck at that time.

At Least 15 Dead In A Police Raid In Sri Lanka

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

At least 15 people are dead and two or more suspected terrorists on the run after a shootout between police and alleged militants in eastern Sri Lanka late Friday.

There were three explosions during the shootout with suspects at a house in the town of Sainthamaruthu, Kalmunai, local police said. Authorities said they seized a large cache of explosives, 100,000 ball bearings and ISIS uniforms and flags from the house, which appeared to be a bomb making factory or storage facility.
The raids came after the coordinated attacks on Easter Sunday, which killed 253 people, including many worshipers attending Easter Mass services.
National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ), a local extremist group, has been blamed for the bombings, but has not claimed the attacks. ISIS claimed responsibility, but a link between the attackers and the terror group has not been proven.
Of the 15 people found dead in the house following the raid, six are suspected terrorists and nine are civilians, including six children, Maj. Gen. Aruna Jayasekera said.
Police are investigating the possible relationship of the civilians to the suspected terrorists.
One wounded suspect fled on a motorbike, and another suspected terrorist could be on the run as well, Jayasekera said.
One of the six suspected terrorists found dead has been identified as Mohamed Niyas, known to the authorities as a prominent member of the NTJ. Earlier in a statement from the army, Niyas was identified as the brother-in-law of the alleged ringleader of the Easter Sunday attacks, Zahran Hashim.
The eastern cities of Kalmunai, Chavalakade and Sammanthurai remain under extended curfew until further notice, according to police. The curfew on these cities was imposed after the shootout.
CNN goes inside St. Anthony's Church after terror attack

Play Video

CNN goes inside St. Anthony’s Church after terror attack 02:13
Sri Lankan authorities have been attempting to root out “sleeper” cells that could initiate another round of attacks, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told CNN on Thursday.
On Friday, Sri Lanka’s President announced a “major search operation” in the nation.
“Every household in the country will be checked,” President Maithripala Sirisena told a news conference, according to a statement. “The lists of permanent residents of every house will be established to ensure no unknown persons could live anywhere.”
The heightened tensions have put Sri Lankans on edge.
Catholic Sunday masses have been suspended “until further notice” in Sri Lanka, the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith announced Friday. He said the move will ensure the safety of the worshipers, and the church “will try to introduce some services” once better security was in place.
The government urged Muslims to stay at home for Friday prayers, and many mosques were closed. However, some mosques defied the call, opening for the midday prayers.
Both Christianity and Islam are minority religions in Sri Lanka, each accounting for under 10% of the total population. The vast majority of Sri Lankans identify as Buddhist.

Ahead of Cyclone Fani, Red Alert issued for Coastal Tamil Nadu

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

Ahead of Cyclone Fani, Met dept issues red alert for coastal Tamil Nadu

Weather tracking website Skymetweather.com has observed that the system may strengthen as a tropical storm on the evening of April 27 or on the morning of April 28.

INDIA Updated: Apr 25, 2019 17:47 IST

M Manikandan
M Manikandan
Hindustan Times, Chennai
IMD,Tamil Nadu,alert
The Indian Meteorological Department has said if the low pressure transforms into a cyclone, it will move in a western and north-westerly direction where Tamil Nadu lies.(PTI PHOTO)

The Indian Meteorological Department on Thursday issued a red alert for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry on April 30 and May 1 saying heavy to very heavy rainfall is likely in the southern state and the union territory. The IMD and other private weather forecasters have predicted that a low pressure formed in the Bay of Bengal is likely to develop into a cyclone which would be named ‘Fani’.

According to the IMD, if the low pressure transforms into a cyclone, it will move in a western and north-westerly direction where Tamil Nadu lies.

“A well low-pressure area lies over East Equatorial Indian Ocean and adjoining the southeast Bay of Bengal. It is very likely to intensify into a depression during the next 24 hours over East Equatorial Indian Ocean and adjoining central parts of south Bay of Bengal and into a Cyclonic Storm during the subsequent 24 hours over southwest Bay of Bengal and adjoining Equatorial Indian Ocean. It is very likely to move northwestwards along the east coast of Sri Lanka near north Tamil Nadu coast on April 30, 2019,” the IMD alert reads.

IMD’s Chennai regional director, S Balachandran said, “We are monitoring the system. Only on April 27 can we predict when and where the cyclone will make landfall.”

He also advised fishermen not to venture into the sea for the next week.

Though the IMD has not predicted the exact place where Cyclone Fani would make landfall, Nagapattinam-based private weather analyst Selva Kumar, who had correctly predicted that Cyclone Gaja will cross the shores between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam coasts in November last, has claimed that Cyclone Fani will cross the shore between Manamelkudi (Pudukottai district) and Adhirampattinam (Thanjavur district) coastal areas.

The weather tracking website Skymetweather.com has observed that the system may strengthen as a tropical storm on the evening of April 27 or on the morning of April 28.

“It is to be named Cyclone Fani. By this time, it would have reached Southwest Bay of Bengal, close to Sri Lanka. Gradually, it will arrive in close proximity of the North Tamil Nadu coast in the Southwest Bay of Bengal. Weather models are showing the tendency of the system to move north-northwestwards and re-curve thereafter,” the skymetweather.com said in its blog.

The weather forecast website has also predicted that it is already a slow-moving system. “If the system re-curves, it is likely to further make it slower. This means that the system may become more intense and spend more time in the proximity of the Tamil Nadu coast, resulting in good rains over the state, including Chennai for a prolonged period,” the prediction reads.

If the cyclone makes landfall, it will be the second one in the state within six months. Cyclone Gaja hit the state in November. In the cyclonic devastation, 63 people died and thousands of houses were damaged in Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Pudukkottai districts.

With the IMD sending out a red alert, district administrations of Pudukkottai, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore and Thiruvarur have advised fishermen not to venture into the sea for the next few days.

First Published: Apr 25, 2019 17:45 IST

Citing ‘high, concrete’ terror threat, Israel tells citizens to leave Sri Lanka

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Citing ‘high, concrete’ terror threat, Israel tells citizens to leave Sri Lanka

Four days after Easter suicide bombings killed at least 359 people and wounded 500 more, Counter-Terrorism Bureau tells Israelis to come home, cancel planned trips

Security personnel stand guard in front of St. Anthony's Shrine in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

Security personnel stand guard in front of St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on April 23, 2019, two days after a series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

The Israel National Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau on Thursday issued a warning for travel to Sri Lanka, saying there was a “high and concrete” chance of a terror attack, four days after the Easter Sunday suicide bombing attacks that killed more than 350 people in and around the capital of Colombo.

The agency said Israeli travelers should leave the island as soon as possible, and those planning to visit were advised to cancel their trips.

The announcement means the country now bears the security agency’s second-highest warning. The decision to issue the warning was made after consultations with security officials and the Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, Sri Lankan authorities banned drones and unmanned aircraft and continued to set off controlled detonations of suspicious items. Sri Lanka’s civil aviation authority said that it was taking the aircraft measure “in view of the existing security situation in the country.”

A priest conducts a mass burial for Easter Sunday bomb blast victims in Negombo, Sri Lanka on April 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Hobby drones have been used by attackers in the past to carry explosives. Iraqi forces found them difficult to shoot down while driving out the Islamic State group, whose members loaded drones with grenades or simple explosives to target government forces. And Yemen’s Houthi rebels has used drones, most recently to target a military parade in January, killing troops.

Sri Lankan police continued their search for explosives, detonating a suspicious item in a garbage dump in Pugoda, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) east of Colombo.

The attacks Easter Sunday mainly at churches and hotels killed at least 359 people and wounded 500 more, the government said Wednesday. Most were Sri Lankan but the Foreign Ministry has confirmed 36 foreigners died. The remains of 13 have been repatriated. Fourteen foreigners are unaccounted for, and 12 were still being treated for injuries in Colombo hospitals.

Sri Lankan security personnel walk next to dead bodies on the floor amid blast debris at St. Anthony’s Shrine following an explosion in the church in Colombo on April 21, 2019. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)

A top Sri Lankan official has said that many of the suicide bombers were highly educated and came from well-off families.

Junior defense minister Ruwan Wijewardene said at least one had a law degree and others may have studied in the UK and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said one of the bombers had been in the country on a student visa with a spouse and child before leaving in 2013.

A British security official also confirmed one bomber is believed to have studied in the UK between 2006 and 2007. The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation, said British intelligence had not been watching Abdul Lathief Jameel Mohamed during his stay in the country. His name was first reported by Sky News.

A photo published on the Islamic State terror groups propaganda outlet, the Amaq agency, on April 23, 2019, showing what the group says is eight bombers who carried out the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka. (Amaq)

Sri Lankan government leaders have acknowledged that some intelligence units were aware of possible terror attacks against churches or other targets weeks before the bombings. The president asked for the resignations of the defense secretary and national police chief without saying who would replace them.

Sri Lankan authorities have blamed a local extremist group, National Towheed Jamaat, whose leader, alternately named Mohammed Zahran or Zahran Hashmi, became known to Muslim leaders three years ago for his incendiary online speeches. On Wednesday, junior defense minister Ruwan Wijewardene said the attackers had broken away from National Towheed Jamaat and another group, which he identified only as “JMI.”

Sri Lankan security personnel inspect the debris of a car after it explodes when police tried to defuse a bomb near St. Anthony’s Shrine as priests look on in Colombo on April 22, 2019, a day after the series of bomb blasts targeting churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. (Jewel SAMAD / AFP)

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Authorities remain unsure of the group’s involvement, though authorities are investigating whether foreign militants advised, funded or guided the local bombers.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara has said 58 suspects have been detained since the bombings.

READ MORE:

Christians Worldwide Face Serious Persecution As Sri Lanka Shows

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS)

 

Iwas up before dawn this morning, preparing for our first service of Easter. This meant that, around the same time as bombs were going offin churches in Sri Lanka, I was reading a passage to my congregation taken from the book of Ezekiel. The passage tells of dead bones coming back together, of bodies being re-clothed in flesh and of life being breathed back into them. Over in Sri Lanka, bones were being blown apart, and flesh stripped from skin. These people woke up this morning full of hope, excited in anticipation of the story of Jesus’s resurrection. They put on their best clothes and polished their shoes. Now their blood is being mopped from the sanctuary floor.

I was talking the other day to the classicist Mary Beard about Christian persecution in Roman times – all that stuff about lions and the Coliseum. She was of the opinion that it might not have been quite as big a deal as later Christians made it out to be. And no doubt there is nothing quite like a few over egged stories of gory martyrdom to deepen a sense of group solidarity among a struggling religious community. Well, I bow to Mary’s greater knowledge of classical Rome. But while it may have been true that too much was made of Roman persecution, the very opposite is true now. We are living though one of the most serious phases of Christian persecution in history, and most people refuse to acknowledge it.

During the past century, Christianity has been all but driven out of the Middle East, the place of its birth. This time last year I was in Damascus, visiting the Christian community there. On the front of the church that I went to on Sunday morning there was a huge mural depicting the horrors of the Armenian genocide. These Christians were originally refugees from Turkey, and had arrived there fleeing the most sustained and horrendous persecution. How much of this story do we know? This week, the Israeli historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi will publish a much-awaited account of the period. The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of its Christian Minorities argues that from 1894 to 1924, the Turkish authorities systematically murdered some 2.5 million Christians. At the beginning of that period, in places like Anatolia, Christians accounted for 20% of the population. By the end of it, there were just 2% left. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, Christians have been driven from the Middle East with bombs and bullets, and with hardly a bat squeak of protest from the secular west.

Why no outrage? Yes, these horrendous murders will make the press for a day or two – but we generally care more about the fire in a famous cathedral than we do about those people who have their bodies blown to bits in architecturally less significant places of worship.

Why the blind spot – especially given that we do care about so many other forms of oppression? No, it’s not a competition. But I do wonder whether on some unconscious level the secular and broadly progressive west thinks that Christianity had it coming. They associate Christianity with popes and their armies, with crusades and inquisitions, with antisemitism, British imperialism, Trump supporters and abortion protesters.

Christians in the west haven’t helped. By describing as “persecution” the minor run-ins that Christianity has had with the law – about cakes for gay couples or street preachers, for example – Christians have debased the word persecution and made it sound like a manipulation designed to reclaim some lost place in the culture. Moreover, porky and pink-faced bishops in the House of Lords do not look like a persecuted species, and so when they talk about Christian persecution they look faintly ridiculous.

A memorial marking the 102nd anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in Istanbul, Turkey, 24 April 2017.
Pinterest
 A memorial marking the 102nd anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians in Istanbul, Turkey, 24 April 2017. Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA

And maybe there are some who don’t want to talk about Christian persecution because they fear that it could easily be used – as it sometimes is – as an alibi for Islamophobia. Easier to fall silent about the murder of Christians than to be seen to side with those racists who blame Muslims for everything. I understand this – but it’s still not good enough.

According to the widely respected Pew report, Christianity remains the world’s most persecuted religion. And the only reason for mentioning this so crassly in terms of league tables is simply that it serves to highlight the deafening silence of our response to it. From North Korea (OK, obviously) to China, and increasingly even in places such as India – all around the world Christians are subject to real and sustained violence for the profession of their faith, the one that we proclaim most insistently today. That life is stronger than death. That love will ultimately triumph over hate.

And this means that we believe terrorism can never quench the proclamation of the good news of Easter. At Easter, darkness doesn’t have the last word. That is why people were going to church in Sri Lanka in the first place, to listen again to this message: Christ is risen. Allelujah.

 Giles Fraser is a parish priest in Elephant and Castle, south London

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Coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka kill more than 200 people

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

In pictures: Coordinated attacks in Sri Lanka kill more than 200 people

Updated 9:43 AM ET, Sun April 21, 2019

Relatives of a victim of a blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine, Kochchikade, react at the police mortuary in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Sunday.

Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters

A series of bomb blasts struck luxury hotels and churches across Sri Lanka early Sunday. More than 200 people were killed and 560 injured in the coordinated attacks, which have put the entire country on lockdown.

The first wave of bombings struck at the heart of the country’s minority Christian community during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa.

US, UK, Canada denounce dissolution of Sri Lanka parliament as undemocratic

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF INDIA’S HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

 

US, UK, Canada denounce dissolution of Sri Lanka parliament as undemocratic

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament, worsening an already major political crisis, has drawn criticism from Western powers, including the United States and Britain.

WORLD Updated: Nov 10, 2018 21:13 IST

Reuters
Reuters
Colombo
US,UK,Canada
Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament has drawn criticism from Western powers, including the United States and Britain.(AFP)

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament, worsening an already major political crisis, has drawn criticism from Western powers, including the United States and Britain.

Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday night, only five days before it was due to reconvene, but a new cabinet he installed was in danger of losing a vote of no confidence. Sirisena also called a general election for Jan. 5.

The president triggered a power struggle when he sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe late last month and appointed the island’s former leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, a pro-China strongman defeated by Sirisena in an election in 2015, in his place.

Sirisena’s rivals are set to challenge his decision, which they describe as illegal and unconstitutional, in the Supreme Court on Monday.

The U.S. Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in a tweet that the United States was “deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis”. It said democracy needed to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.

Mark Field, the British minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, tweeted his concern about the dissolution of parliament days before it was due to be reconvened.

“As a friend of Sri Lanka, the UK calls on all parties to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes,” Field said.

Canada’s Foreign Policy twitter feed said that it was “deeply concerned” about the decision and referred to the risks to reconciliation work after the nation’s civil war.

“This further political uncertainty is corrosive to Sri Lanka’s democratic future and its commitments on reconciliation and accountability,” it said.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed both concern and disappointment in a statement, saying the move “undermines Sri Lanka’s long democratic tradition and poses a risk to its stability and prosperity”.

Sirisena has said he fired Wickremesinghe because the prime minister was trying to implement “a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people’s sentiment”.

Parliament test

Mangala Samaraweera, an ally of Wickremesinghe, said their party expects the court to rule that the dissolution of parliament was illegal and that eventually a vote in parliament will be held to test whether there is a majority.

“We will show that we have the parliament majority and we will show that the dictator president has dissolved a government which had a majority in the parliament,” he told reporters.

They were supported by the Tamil National Alliance, the main party representing ethnic Tamil groups in parliament, who said they too will petition the Supreme Court against the dissolution of the house.

“This is a clear violation of the constitution. The president can’t do this,” M.A. Sumanthiran, a spokesman for the alliance, told Reuters.

India and the West have raised concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China. Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015, putting the country deep into debt.

Wickremesinghe refused to vacate the official prime minister’s residence saying he was the prime minister and had a parliamentary majority.

Before he signed the papers dissolving parliament and calling the election, Sirisena appointed allies of his and of Rajapaksa to cabinet positions.

One of them said Sirisena was right to order an election to end the political crisis. Dinesh Gunawardena, a newly appointed urban development minister, said the president had handed the country back to the people.

“It is the people’s right to vote. We have gone before the people. No force can interfere. The people’s mandate is supreme,” he said.

Independent legal experts have told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament. The only other legal way would be through a referendum, or with the consent of two thirds of lawmakers.

Given those views, it was not immediately clear how Sirisena is on legal safe ground by dissolving parliament, though his legal experts have said there are provisions for him to do so.

First Published: Nov 10, 2018 21:11 IST

Stories of Sri Lankans who are “Taking a Stand” for democracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Stories of Sri Lankans who are “Taking a Stand” for democracy

Image via Groundviews

This post originally appeared on Groundviews, an award-winning citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. An edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.

Sri Lanka has been embroiled in a political crisis since October 26 when president Maithripala Sirisena removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – replacing him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. This has led to a power struggle between the newly appointed PM and the recently ousted PM who both believe in the legitimacy of their position. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the capital Colombo to question the constitutional legitimacy of the president’s decision and demand the parliament be reconvened to settle the matter. Bowing to pressure, President Sirisena has promised to reconvene the parliament on November 7.

On November 4, 2018, a group of people gathered at the Liberty roundabout in the Kollupitiya neighborhood of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.

For some, it was their fifth day of standing in protest. Following news that President Maithripala Sirisena and the United People’s Freedom Alliance had stepped down from the coalition Government, a group of citizens decided to meet at the roundabout every day, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, until Parliament was convened. On the first day, the protest coincided with a larger rally organised by Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) held nearby – but many of those who attended the rally on that day were quick to say that they were not attending to support the UNP.

On October 30, a tweet by Lisa Fuller featuring one of the posters held by a protester went viral. It read, “I’m not here for Ranil – I’m here for democracy”.

Lisa Fuller@gigipurple

“I’m not here for Ranil. I’m here for democracy and good governance” Civil society protest at liberty circle now

The poster appeared to encapsulate the sentiments of many of those gathered at the Liberty roundabout on October 30 and every day after.

Over the past few days, Groundviews documented those who attended the citizen protest. Those attending included young people who had never attended a protest before, senior citizens, activists and members of civil society. On November 4, there were participants from Jaffna, Mannar, Batticaloa and Kandy as well as from Colombo. For some, it was their first time at a protest. Others had seen corruption continue on for decades (the oldest participant was 92 years old). Members from the corporate sector stood shoulder-to-shoulder with activists from Jaffna and Batticaloa, who were flanked by those in the theatre community.

Corruption was a recurring topic, given revelations from UNP MP Ruwan Wijewardene about sums of money being offered for Parliamentarians to switch allegiances.

On October 30 and afterward, we asked those who attended one simple question – “What made you decide to participate?”

Over the past few days, Groundviews documented those who attended the citizen protest.

This is what they had to say:

Diordre Moraes. Image via Groundviews

“As a mother, as a grandmother, I want to see democracy restored. I’m not against any person or any party but as a citizen of Sri Lanka. Nothing like this has ever happened before” – Diordre Moraes

Neluni Tillekeratne. Image via Gorundviews

“I feel young people should take political issues more seriously. When youth engage with politics they only look at statements from the President or Prime Minister. We don’t look at deeper issues. I’m hoping to influence young people to come.” Neluni Tillekeratne

Nadesan Suresh. Image via Groundviews

Our Malaiyaha Tamil community, those who work in tea estates, voted for President Sirisena hoping he would reform society. However, what he did sets us back 100 years.’ Nadesan Suresh, from Badulla.

Sarojini Kadirgamar. Image via Groundviews

“Though I’m 92 years old, I feel I must make a stand for democracy. Over the years I’ve seen the steady deterioration of political life. Every party has used corrupt practices for short term gains.This has to change.” Sarojini Kadirgamar

Leisha Lawrence, Mihiri de Silva, Sepali de Silva and unknown. Image via Groundviews

“I’m here for democracy. If an MP choose to jump to another party they should lose their seat in Parliament. I’m not here for any party.” Leisha Lawrence (far right)

“We vote in a particular way for who we want. That doesn’t give the President the right to do what he wants, because he doesn’t get on with a particular person.” Mihiri de Silva (second from right)

“My vote is not for sale. This is not right!” Sepali de Silva (second from left)

Kalaivani. Image via Groundviews

‘We call this a democratic country but what happened suppressed democratic means. We made history as having the first female prime minister, now we have made history again for having two prime ministers!’ Kalaivani, from Batticaloa.

Adrian Roshan Fernando. Image via Groundviews

“The decisions being made now don’t include the public opinion. They are just taking their own decisions. There is a way to do things.” Adrian Roshan Fernando.

Piyathilaka Ranaweera. Image via Groundviews

“This is not good for the country. We’re doing this for the next generation, for the future of this country.” Piyathilaka Ranaweera

Irfadha Muzammil. Image via Groundviews

“People’s votes matter. We can’t let politicians corrupt that and exploit voters.” Irfadha Muzammil

Abdul Kalam Azad. Image via Groundviews

Rather than saying “I am Prime Minister” come to Parliament now and show that you have the majority. Govern the country. Don’t waste our time!” Abdul Kalam Azad.

As evening fell, the electricity at the Liberty roundabout remained switched off. Later on, Mayor of Colombo Rosy Senanayake tweeted that this was “an act of sabotage”.

Rosy Senanayake@Rosy_Senanayake

This has been brought to my notice and it was an act of sabotage. We will ensure the lights are switched on tomorrow.

Groundviews

@groundviews

Citizens use smartphones – for light, and to inquire with the CMC why the streetlamps were turned on late – as their protest against #ConstitutionalCrisisSriLanka ends for the day. It will continue daily, 4.30pm-6.30pm at Liberty roundabout till Parliament is convened. #lka

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Undeterred, the protesters used the light of their mobile phones and continued chanting.

Image via Groundviews

Eventually, at 7 pm, the protest came to an end – to be resumed the next day, and the day after that, until Parliament reconvenes.

Image via Groundviews

You can read the full Photo essay here. You can also follow along with the protest on Twitter, and from multiple perspectives, here.

“The people’s voices” prevail: Sri Lanka’s prime ministerial crisis to be put to a parliamentary vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

“The people’s voices” prevail: Sri Lanka’s prime ministerial crisis to be put to a parliamentary vote

The Parliament of Sri Lanka. Image from Flickr by Kolitha de Silva. CC BY 2.0

Since October 26, when Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena ousted Ranil Wickremesinghe, the country’s prime minister, and replaced him with former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the ensuing political crisis has many in the country analyzing the constitutional legitimacy of appointing a prime minister without wider consent. The president also suspended the country’s parliament for three weeks and dissolved the cabinet of ministers.

On October 30 and 31, in response to the questionable legitimacy of Wickremesinghe’s removal and the temporary suspension of Parliament, thousands took to the streets of Colombo to demand that Parliament be reconvened in order to resolve the ongoing political crisis.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Azzam Ameen

@AzzamAmeen

Massive Demonstration in Colombo demanding President Sirisena to convene Parliament “The people have spoken. Summon Parliament. Restore democracy now” says @

Harsha de Silva

@HarshadeSilvaMP

Thank you! Tens of thousands of people thronged the entrance to Temple Trees. They were orderly, not drunk and didnt climb lamp posts. They came only to demand that parliament be summoned and dislodge . Huge success. @MaithripalaS don’t trample democracy. @RW_UNP

Vikalpa

@vikalpavoices

Live updates from the people’s protest at the Liberty Plaza roundabout calling for the re-convening of Parliament

In a news conference, Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya urged the president to let Wickremesinghe prove his majority support on the parliament floor, and warned of a bloodbath if the impasse continues.

Nusky Mukthar@NuskyMukthar

Diplomats from UN, EU, UK, Canada & Germany met the Speaker today and urged to convene the parliament and to ensure democracy is protected

Pressure from protests to reconvene Parliament have borne fruit, as Sirisena has scheduled a parliamentary vote to decide who is the lawful prime minister on November 7.

A dysfunctional coalition

The events of the past few days have stoked fears among some Sri Lankans of a return to the period of Mahinda Rajapaska’s presidency, when sectarian violence, state-sponsored repression and censorship were rife. As a group of students has noted in a statement on the matter published by GroundViews:

The resort to violence and coercion is a chilling reminder of what dictatorship looks like. The coup is being followed by a return to the norms of self-censorship, violence, and fear that were characteristic of Rajapaksa-era politics. State media institutions were stormed in the night and security for the Prime Minister and Ministers  arbitrarily withdrawn. Moreover, many private media stations are already becoming vehicles for misinforming the public and spreading disinformation.

Sirisena told reporters that he removed Wickremesinghe after discovering that the latter was involved in an assassination plot against him. But it is believed that the current situation is, in fact, a by-product of the existing power struggle between Sirisena, Wickremesinghe, and Rajapaksa.

In January 2015, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for a presidential election in a bid to consolidate his power and to seek a third term in office. Sirisena, a former minister in Rajapaksa’s government, defected from Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and was nominated as a candidate by the Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) to contest the presidency against the incumbent. Sirisena emerged the surprising winner—securing 51.28% votes against Rajapaksa’s 47.28%—and took over as the new president of Sri Lanka.

After the election, Rajapaksa handed over leadership of the SLFP party to Sirisena in accordance with the party’s constitution, which states that any member who is President is automatically leader of the party. During the parliamentary elections in August 2015, Siresena’s and Rajapaksa’s factions joined forces to contest the election under the banner of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Wickremesinghe’s UNP-led coalition, however, won 106 seats out of 225, with the UFPA winning 95—55 by the pro-Rajapaksa faction, and 40 by the pro-Sirisena faction.

After the parliamentary elections, Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe prime minister and created a National Government after signing a memorandum of understanding in order to address issues which were not resolved after the end of the 30-year ethnic conflict. Since then, the Rajapaksa-led SLFP faction has been the de-facto opposition party.

Over the past two years, however, Rajapaksa has been gaining significant ground, and his party swept the local elections in February 2018. In April 2018, Wickremesinghe survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament brought by supporters of Rajapaksa, a move clearly meant to weaken the already unstable ruling coalition.

The growing popularity of Rajapaksa’s SLFP party and existing tensions between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe over the latter’s leaning towards India as a geopolitical partner instead of China, may be one of the many reasons that Sirisena has chosen to appoint Rajapaksa as prime minister.

“The people’s voices have been heard. . . ” Wickremesinghe stated optimistically on Twitter on November 1, after it was learnt that parliament would be reconvened next week. “Democracy will prevail.”