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Sri Lankans to elect parliament in ‘referendum’ on Rajapaksa comeback | Reuters

COLOMBO Sri Lankans elect a new parliament on Monday in what amounts to a referendum on ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback bid, with the reformist alliance that swept him from power in January seeking a stronger mandate for reforms.

The nationalist strongman has set his sights on becoming premier of a government led by his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). But the former ally who beat him at the polls in January, President Maithripala Sirisena, now leads the party and he rules that out.

The tangled personal rivalry has overshadowed campaigning on the Indian Ocean island of 20 million people, which has a history of political feuding that has often spilled over into violence and even the assassination of its leaders.

Sirisena, in a cross-party alliance with a government led by the United National Party (UNP), has sought to break with that troubled past by passing reforms to weaken his own presidency and make the government more open and accountable.

“We all united and voted against Rajapaksa to send him into retirement,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at his last campaign stop on Friday night. “If he hasn’t got the message, we should unite to make sure he understands it now.”

Minority Tamils and Muslims have rallied behind the centre-right coalition led by Wickremesinghe’s UNP, which pundits say has the best chance of forming the largest bloc in the 225-seat parliament.

A stronger UNP mandate would help complete the “unfinished business” of the reform process that has stalled because the party and its allies now lack a majority, said political analyst Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

Rajapaksa, 69, is revered as a war hero by many of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala speaking Buddhist majority for crushing a 26-year Tamil uprising in 2009. Opponents accuse him of running a corrupt, brutal and dynastic regime – charges he denies.

“This government chased the investors away and welcomed the underworld. In our period, we chased the underworld and brought investors,” Rajapaksa has said in answer to his critics.

At stake for the wider world is whether Sri Lanka sticks to its pro-Western course or turns back towards China. Under Rajapaksa, Beijing pumped billions of dollars into making the island part of a new “Maritime Silk Route”.


Sirisena quit Rajapaksa’s government last year to run against him, pulling off a stunning victory in presidential elections on Jan. 8.

Yet he has moved only belatedly to assert his control over the SLFP and to block the path to the premiership of his erstwhile ally and party rival.

In a widely leaked letter, he accused Rajapaksa of holding the party “hostage” and ruled out naming him prime minister. Sirisena, 63, has also used his power as party leader to purge Rajapaksa loyalists from key posts in recent days.

The manoeuvring could determine whether Sirisena can form a unity government comprising Wickremesinghe’s centre-right alliance and his own loyalists from the SLFP, sending Rajapaksa to the opposition benches, say analysts.

In the election, 196 lawmakers will be elected from party lists in multi-member districts. The rest will be elected from national lists, with party leaders deciding who gets a ticket.

Fifteen million people will have the right to vote after what observers say has been an unusually clean campaign.

Polls open at 7 am (0130 GMT) and close at 4 pm. The final count is due on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez and Sunil Kataria in Colombo; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Dean Yates)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Sri Lanka leader dissolves parliament, seeking fresh mandate for reforms | Reuters

COLOMBO Sri Lanka’s president dissolved parliament on Friday, a government spokesman said, in an effort to consolidate power and push through political reforms.

Two government officials told Reuters elections will be held to elect a new parliament on Aug. 17.

President Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected in a Jan. 8 poll, needs parliamentary support to push through reforms he has promised, including limits on the powers of the executive presidency.

The timing of the parliamentary elections is also important. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is expected to release a report in September on human rights abuses during the final phase of the war against the Tamil insurgency in 2009.

The report could affect an attempt by Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa to stage a comeback. His supporters say he may bid for the prime ministership.

One of Sri Lanka’s key parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), is split between Sirisena and Rajapaksa, who defeated the Tamil separatists in 2009. For the moment, political analysts say, the split has given Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) an edge in the election.

“The UNP will be the single largest party after the election,” said Kusal Perera, director of the Centre for Social Democracy, a Colombo-based think tank.

But Rajapaska’s supporters believe that if the report criticises him for war-time abuses, it might actually help him with Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese community. He will be seen to be standing up to foreigners trying to interfere in the small island nation.

The dissolution came ahead of no-confidence motions against Wickremesinghe and Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and a parliamentary committee report on a alleged bond scam under the new government.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

37 Indian fishermen remanded in custody in Sri Lanka

A Sri Lankan court on Saturday remanded 37 Indian fishermen, arrested by the navy for allegedly poaching in the country’s waters, in judicial custody till April 17.

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A Sri Lankan court on Saturday remanded 37 Indian fishermen, arrested by the navy for allegedly poaching in the country’s waters, in judicial custody till April 17.The 37 Indian fishermen were arrested yesterday and fiveboats were seized off the island’s northern coast in Point Pedro, Sri Lankan Naval spokesman Commander Indika Silva had said.They were arrested a day after President Maithripala Sirisena said he had issued instructions to seize boats that violate the country’s territorial waters. Sirisena dismissed opposition’s claim that his governmenthas given fishing rights to Indians.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Opposition group National Freedom Front had alleged thatthe government had given fishing rights to Indians in Sri Lankan waters as an appeasement policy towards India. The two countries held fishermen-level talks in Chennai last month.The Indian fishermen had reportedly called for 83 days per year for three years to fish in the Palk Strait, the narrow sea strip separating the two countries.

Attack on fishermen may harm relations: Karunanidhi

DMK chief M Karunanidhi on Sunday asked the Centre to request Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to advise his Navy on the recent attacks on Indian fishermen and said such incidents may harm relations between the two countries.

M Karunanidhi
File Photo

The latest incident in which the Lankan Navy attacked some fishermen from Rameswaram fishing near Katchatheevu “has deeply saddened us”, Karunanidhi said in a statement. Stating that the incident had occurred the same day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was meeting Tamils in the island nation, he said more than 30 Sri Lankan Navy personnel came in five boats, attacked the fishermen and damaged fishing equipment. “Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President try to solve the issue through talks, such attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy will cause strains on the relations between the two countries,” he said. “India should urge the Sri Lankan President to advice the Navy personnel in order to reach a solution in this issue,” he said. Also Read: Sri Lanka to release 86 fishermen ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit

PM Narendra Modi visits Jaffna, seeks respect for all citizens in Sri Lanka

Modi’s visit came a day after he had met President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo and favoured a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a unified Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers prayers at a temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka on Saturday.

Making a historic visit to a region once ravaged by strife, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called for equitable development and respect for all citizens in Sri Lanka, seen as an oblique reference to Tamils who had suffered during the war between the LTTE and forces.Winding up his public engagements on his two-day trip to the island with a hugely-symbolic visit to Tamil-dominated Jaffna, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, he said he was glad that it “is one to wipe tears from the eyes of those who suffered”.The Prime Minister, who is only the second international leader to visit the region after Premier David Cameron in 2013, handed over 27,000 new homes to Tamils who became homeless during the civil war.The houses were built with Indian assistance as part of India’s efforts to help in the reconciliation process.Modi’s visit came a day after he had met President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo and favoured a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a unified Sri Lanka.
He had also urged the Sri Lankan government to ensure early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment relating to devolution of powers to Tamils and to go beyond that in finding a political solution.Laying the foundation today for a Cultural Centre being built here by India, Modi said, “Sri Lanka should also progress. Unity, peace and amity are essential ingredients for equitable development where there is respect for all citizens.”Northern Province Chief Minister and Tamil leader C V Wigneswaran, who was present at the event, made a strong pitch for replacing the 13th Amendment with a more dynamic system of devolution of powers.”13th amendment (to Sri Lankan Constitution) cannot be a final solution,” he said, noting that Modi himself is a proponent of devolution of powers and cooperative federalism.Earlier, Modi flagged off a train service in the north-western town of Talaimannar — the closest point to India — restored after decades of civil war, completing the reconstruction of the entire Northern Province Railway Line.
At Ilavalai in Jaffna, where India is assisting in a housing project, Modi participated in a housewarming ceremony and lent a helping hand in the traditional milk boiling before a family moved into a new home.He was received by women who performed the traditional ‘aarti’ to the accompaniment of Nadaswaram music.Modi also offered prayers at the Naguleswaram Temple in Jaffna. “Feeling blessed,” he tweeted later.16:34 IST Saturday, 14 March 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said Jaffna is spreading the message of peace to the world and added that India is proud to have an opportunity to establish a unique and world level cultural centre there.
“Jaffna is making a new mark for itself, spreading message of peace to the world. India is proud to have an opportunity to establish a unique and world level cultural centre in Jaffna,” Prime Minister Modi said after laying the foundation stone for the Jaffna Cultural Centre. “I assure you that the work we’ve started will be completed well in time and will be better than your imagination. I’m confident that the Talaimannar Railway project will give pace to the development of this area,” he added.14:01 IST Saturday, 14 March 2015 Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday inaugurated the Talaimannar 1650 pier railway station and flagged off the Talaimannar- Medawachchiya train. India was involved in the construction of the railway track. Prime Minister Modi will also be laying the foundation stone for the iconic Jaffna Cultural Centre.12:55 IST Saturday, 14 March 2015Accompanied by Sri Lanka’s President, Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here and offered prayers at the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi tree. He also stopped at the Buddhist temple in the historic north-central city. Worshippers believe that the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree has grown from a sapling from one that sheltered the Buddha over 2,500 years ago.With agency inputs

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj calls on Sri Lankan President Sirisena upon arriving in Colombo

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today called on Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on the first day of her trip to set the stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, the first bilateral tour by an Indian premier in over 25 years.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj greets officials as she walks with Sri Lankan Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith Perera upon arrival in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Friday.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today called on Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on the first day of her trip to set the stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country, the first bilateral tour by an Indian premier in over 25 years.During the meeting, Sirisena said that Sri Lanka was preparing for Modi’s visit next week. He assured Swaraj that his government is committed to strengthening ties with India. Sirisena also told Swaraj that his country was in the process of taking along all communities.Recalling the strong support India has extended to Lanka over the years, Sirisena said he was looking forward to similar support in international arena too. Swaraj, who arrived here on a two-day trip, was received by Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith P Perera at the airport. She had last visited Lanka in 2012 as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.During her two-day stay, Swaraj will also call on Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and hold talks with her counterpart Mangala Samaraweera. Samaraweera hosted a dinner for Swaraj on Friday night.Modi’s visit from March 13-14 will be the first bilateral trip by an Indian prime minister since Rajiv Gandhi visited the island in 1987 to sign the Indo-Lanka Accord. Modi will be the first Indian prime minister to travel to war-ravaged Jaffna in Tamil-dominated Northern Province and Trincomalee in the Eastern Province. He will address the Sri Lanka Parliament and is scheduled to travel to Anuradhapura and Kandy.Modi’s visit will be a return visit after Sirisena’s visit to New Delhi last month that saw the two countries sign a civil nuclear pact. It was Sirisena’s first overseas visit since becoming president in January.India-Sri Lanka relations had seen tensions during last few years of the rule of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was voted out of power, as China had expanded its footprint in the country by building ports, highways and participating in other infrastructure projects.

Sri Lanka President Sirisena leaves for India, seeks ‘new beginning’

Colombo: Seeking a ‘new beginning’ in bilateral ties, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena today left for a four-day state visit to India, his maiden foreign trip after he assumed charge last month.

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena. AFPSri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena. AFP

Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena. AFP

During the visit, the 63-year-old leader is expected to meet his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee besides holding talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on key issues, including peace and reconciliation process in his country.

According to presidential advisors, the Lankan president is desirous of making a new beginning in the Indo-Lanka relations after bilateral ties suffered under Sirisena’s predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa over India’s backing to US-moved resolutions at the UN rights body over alleged warcrimes.

“We will be making a new beginning with India,” acting government spokesman and Minister Lakshman Kiriella said.

Sirisena, who dethroned Rajapaksa after a bitter presidential poll on January 9, has indicated that he wants to have closer relations with India.

India has been hoping that the new government will develop Lanka on the “foundation of genuine and effective reconciliation” creating harmony between all sections there.

President Mukherjee will host a banquet in the honour of Sirisena, who is making his first tour abroad after defeating Rajapaksa. He was invited to visit New Delhi by Prime Minister Modi when he congratulated him on his victory in the polls.

Sirisena is accompanied by a small delegation that includes Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Resettlement Minister D M Swaminathan, Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka, Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapaksha along with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, presidential officials said.

Samaraweera also visited India on his first foreign trip soon after assuming charge last month during which he held talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj.

During Samaraweera’s visit, the two countries agreed to re-engage on repatriation of refugees from India as both sides held substantive talks on a raft of crucial matters, including the political reconciliation process and the sticky fishermen issue.

Sri Lankan officials say Sirisena would further discuss ways to tackle the ongoing problem of fishermen between the two countries.

At the end of his official leg of the visit, the Sri Lankan leader will travel to Buddhist pilgrimage site Bodh Gaya and Hindu temple in Tirupati on February 17 before returning home on February 18.

Briefing reporters on the Presidential visit, the Spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi had said both the countries were looking at “substantive talks” in terms of announcement of agreements and frameworks.

All bilateral matters, including economy, peace and Sri Lankan reconciliation process, which is an important issue, will be discussed during Sirisena’s visit, he said.


Sri Lanka to prosecute LTTE leader wanted for Rajiv Gandhi killing

Sri Lanka has resisted international moves to have KP extradited to India to face charges, but with the fall of the Rajapaksa regime, questions have risen about the fate of the LTTE leader.

Sri Lanka’s new government will prosecute a top LTTE leader who is wanted in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, an official spokesman said on Saturday.Kumaran Pathmanathan, who is better known as ‘KP’, was “arrested” by the then Sri Lankan government in August 2009 in a Southeast Asian nation and brought to Colombo where he was welcomed as a “VVIP” by then defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.Newly-elected Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s top aide and spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said they were also trying to locate KP and investigating reports that he had fled the island. It had been alleged that Gotabhaya and the government of his brother and outgoing president Mahinda Rajapaksa had cut a deal with LTTE leaders to access their wealth abroad in exchange for safety and protection for the guerrillas.Sri Lanka has resisted international moves to have KP extradited to India to face charges, but with the fall of the Rajapaksa regime, questions have risen about the fate of the LTTE leader.”The information we have is that he was taken out of the country. He had used the VIP lounge so there is no record of him leaving,” Senaratne said adding that Colombo will prosecute him even if he had escaped abroad. “There are several people from the Rajapaksa regime who have already fled the country, but we want to tell them that we can use the international police and have them brought back to Sri Lanka,” he said.He said several men who led dirty tricks department of state-owned media to keep up a smear campaign against Sirisena and his aides had already fled the island.

Rajapaksa is out. Advantage India?

Sri Lanka’s newly elected president Maithripala Sirisena leaves the opposition leader’s office in Colombo on Friday

The election of Pallawatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena, 63, as the president of Sri Lanka in an election called by his defeated predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa, ahead of the end of his second six-year term, has demonstrated the democratic maturity of the Sri Lankan electorate. The expectation of most observers, possibly because of the natural human tendency toexaggerate the chances of the incumbent, was that Rajapaksa was going to get a third term, for which he amended the constitutional limit of two terms. Let us look at the prospects of Indo-Sri Lanka relations with Sirisena as President. Prime Minister Modi has promptly congratulated Sirisena, as is customary. We should not expect an abrupt reversal of Rajapaksa’s rather explicit pro-China policy and a suddenimprovement in relations with India. But, we could expect a calibrated and gradual correction in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy that was based on a closer and closer relationship with China, without taking serious note of India’s concerns. For example, Rajapaksa had concluded a $1.34-billion contract for the Colombo Port City Project with China. The project calls for the reclamation of 580 acres of land, out of which China was to get ownership of one-third. There are valid environmental concerns that were ignored by Rajapaksa. Sirisena had promised during the campaign he will cancel the contract. Let us wait and watch. Yet another concern by those who opposed Rajapaksa is that, under him, Sri Lanka has taken huge loans from China at high interest rates, and, consequently, the cost of living had gone up. We, in India, are generally sceptical of India’s ability to implement projects in other countries. It is heartening to note that Sirisena’s supporters had pointed out that while India’s IRCON was laying rails at $2.5 million per km in the north of the island, a Chinese firm was charging $10.5 million for the same work in the south. In short, Sirisena is likely to correct the imbalance between China and India in the economic relations of Sri Lanka. China has been sending submarines for refuelling toColombo, ostensibly for undertaking anti-piracy operations elsewhere. Rajapaksa has been dismissive of India’s concerns in this regard. Let us wait and watch. Apart from security and economic relations, the major concern for India is the Tamil political and civil rights for a degree of autonomy without infringing on the territorialintegrity of Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa had a golden chance to reach out to the Tamils and implement the 13th amendment to the Constitution enacted in 1987. But he preferred to take a hard line and made sure that the Tamil chief minister in the north will not be able to function by denying him powers due to him. Will Sirisena reverse the wrong course? Rajapaksa had inundated the north with the army .Sirisena, as a candidate, did say that he would not withdraw the army from the north. He comes from Polannurawa, a centre of rather narrow-minded Sinhalese nationalism, and was defence minister for a while during the war against LTTE when needless atrocities were committed by the armyand the LTTE. The Tamils did not exactly vote for Sirisena, they voted against Rajapaksa. From a rational point of view, it is possible to respect the rights of the Tamils without damaging the interests of the Sinhalese. For that, Sri Lanka needs a president with vision who can lead. Will Sirisena rise to the occasion? From India, we can only wish him well and extend all support and goodwill if and when he makes it clear that he will be the president of all Sri Lankans and that he is determined to render justice to the Tamil minority. It will make good sense for Prime Minister Modi to make an early visit to Sri Lanka.The writer is a former high commissioner to Sri Lanka

New Sri Lankan government is a hotchpotch of several parties, says BJP leader Subramanian Swamy

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy on Friday said the new Sri Lankan Government is going to be a hotchpotch of so many parties, as the Buddhist clergy and Islamic parties have also joined this new coalition.”What is to be watched is the new government that is going to be hotchpotch of so many parties, all kinds of divergent expectations. There was united only on one thing, to defeat Rajapaksa. But now, the Buddhist clergy and Islamic parties have also joined this new coalition. So, this kind of hotchpotch is not going to be very good for India I guess. We will have to watch it very carefully,” Swamy said.”The Sri Lankan election is a surprise because all of us expected that since Rajapaksa had restored normalcy in the state after two decades of terrorist, murder and mayhem of the LTTE. But, the people have defeated him and in democracy the people are supreme,” he added.In Sri Lanka’s tightest-ever seventh presidential election race, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reportedly conceded defeat to joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena.According to reports, Rajapaksa has left the official “Temple Trees” residence here, after cumulative results indicated that Sirisena was leading by a huge margin.Rajapaksa had served two terms as president and was seeking a record third consecutive term.On Thursday, Sri Lankans voted in large numbers. The election commission in the island-nation said that on an average there was an estimated more than 65-70 per cent voting in most places.In all, 19 candidates contested the elections, but the main fight was between Rajapaksa, 69, and Sirisena, 63.

Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapakse urges Tamils to elect the ‘known devil’

Sri Lanka’s beleaguered President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday appealed to the minority Tamils to back him, the “known devil”, in the January 8 presidential polls as he campaigned in the former LTTE bastion.”There is a saying that the known devil is better than the unknown angel”, Rajapaksa said in Sinhala, speaking through a translator at a rally in Jaffna, the erstwhile stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).69-year-old Rajapaksa has been battling a flurry of defections from his ruling coalition- the United People’s Freedom Alliance- with another parliamentarian switching loyalties to the opposition ranks on Friday. Achala Jagoda became the 26th legislator to join the opposition unity candidate Maithripala Sirisena in the endless stream of defections.Rajapakse’s Jaffna visit came amid the main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), backed Sirisena for the presidential polls and the opposition yesterday alleged that the government had deployed soldiers to keep the Tamil voters away.”This is my 11th visit to Jaffna as president,” Rajapakse, who has been in power for nearly a decade, told the rally. Taking a dig at Sirisena, the incumbent said his rival is a stranger to the Tamil-dominated northern region while he as president had done much to further their interests. He also accused that Sirisena had shown little interest in the area, saying he had been “an infrequent visitor” to the region.Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2005, listed a series of infrastructure projects that had been completed since the end of the civil war in 2009.”We gave you electricity, we gave you new schools and now we want to give you proper water supplies,” he said, in a region that was devastated by the 37-year-long separatist conflict.A low Tamil turn out is expected to help the incumbent in the direct contest between him and Sirisena. Tamils account for around 13% of the 15 million people entitled to cast their votes and their choice of candidate could be crucial to the outcome of what is seen as a neck-to-neck fight.