Campaigning for Sri Lanka presidential election ends

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka People's Front party presidential election candidate and former wartime defence chief, with his brothers, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and opposition leader and Chamal Rajapaksa (R). (Reuters)
Updated 14 November 2019

Campaigning for Sri Lanka presidential election ends

COLOMBO: Campaigning for Sri Lanka’s Nov. 16 presidential elections came to an end on Wednesday.

Competition is tight between the United National Front’s (UNF) candidate, Sajith Premadasa, and former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.

Rajapaksa’s final rally took place in the town of Homagama on Wednesday evening, while Premadasa concluded his campaign in Colombo.

Thus far, 35 candidates have submitted their nominations, while two — Milroy Fernando and Dr. I.M. Illyas — have openly urged supporters to vote for Premadasa.

In comments to the media on Wednesday, Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, said all candidates have been requested to attend a special meeting on Thursday to be briefed about the electoral process, including the counting of votes and the announcement of results.

The commission urged the candidates not to partake in any promotional activities on social media.

It has received 3,729 complaints pertaining to vandalism and violation of laws, leading up to the elections, with 27 cases of violence reported. Additionally, 3,596 election law violations were reported.

To address these concerns, the commission is setting up complaints offices at the Elections Secretariat in Rajagiriya and all other district offices.

Ali Sabry, chief legal adviser to Gotabaya, told Arab News that a proven track record will propel Gotabaya to victory.

Sabry added that Gotabaya is taking credit for eliminating terrorism in Sri Lanka. Industry and Commerce Minister Rishath Bathiudeen, who was involved in Premadasa’s political campaign, told Arab News that he is hopeful about his candidate’s chances.

Bathiudeen, who is the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress, said Premadasa would garner 95 percent of the Muslim vote and a majority of Tamil votes.

Azath Salley, leader of the National Unity Alliance, said: “The majority of the Tamil and Muslim communities are with … Premadasa.”

Meanwhile, the chair of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, N. M. Amin, said this is the first time that incidents of election violence are few and far between.

Meanwhile, a group deployed by the Commonwealth to observe the presidential elections has called on stakeholders to demonstrate a commitment to a “peaceful, transparent, credible and inclusive” poll.

The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) was invited by the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to observe the poll.

The COG will receive briefings from relevant stakeholders including election management officials, representatives of political parties, civil society groups, the police, members of the international community, citizens and international observers.

In a statement, COG Chair Prosper Bani said: “As independent observers, we will remain objective and impartial in discharging our duties. The Group’s assessment will be its own and not that of any Commonwealth member country. We hope that our group’s presence will support the strengthening of democracy in Sri Lanka.”


Taliban’s brutal killing of comic actor Khasha sparks fear and loathing in Afghanistan

Updated 54 min 45 sec ago

Taliban’s brutal killing of comic actor Khasha sparks fear and loathing in Afghanistan

  • Taliban claims without proof the Tik-Tok prankster had abused civilians in his job as a police officer in Kandahar
  • Mistreatment and murder of comedian raises fear of deliberate targeting of artists and performers

KABUL:  Until last week, Nazar Mohammad Khasha was an obscure Afghan prankster that few had heard of beyond his village in southern Kandahar. That was before he was dragged from his home, forced into the back of a vehicle and killed by the Taliban, acts that sparked an outpouring of anger across Afghanistan.

A video circulating on social media appears to show Khasha with his hands tied behind his back, squeezed into the back seat of a car between two men, one holding an assault rifle.

One of the men twice slaps Khasha full in the face for cracking a humiliating joke — quite possibly the last he ever told. Another man outside the frame barks: “Don’t let him go … strangle him.”

A second video published on social media appears to show Khasha’s motionless body lying on the ground, having been shot multiple times. A man lifts Khasha’s head to reveal his face, recognizable by his distinctive mustache.

The videos of Khasha’s abduction and murder have flooded the internet, igniting outrage across Afghanistan and overseas over the punishment meted out by the Taliban to a man well liked for the videos of his goofball charm filmed by villagers and posted on TikTok.

Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported that the 60-year-old left behind seven children. Saad Mohseni, the Afghan-Australian chairman of Moby Group, which owns Tolo News, expressed his revulsion at the execution in one word: “Horrific.”

Khasha’s routines, in which he would crack crude jokes, perform songs and poke fun at himself, had picked up a loyal following. His killing has led to fears of the targeting of artists and performers by the ultraconservative militants, long known to be intolerant of humor and free expression.

Afghan militia fighters keep a watch at an outpost against Taliban insurgents at Charkint district in Balkh Province on July 15, 2021. (Photo by FARSHAD USYAN / AFP)

In a statement on Wednesday, Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s former president, strongly condemned “the killing of Khasha by individuals related to the Taliban” and called it an act “against all human rights acts and orders of Islam.”

Mohsin Dawar, a prominent liberal Pakistani Pashtun lawmaker, said on Twitter: “A man who brought smiles to many was killed brutally for being who he was. The world watches as the Taliban continue with their atrocities against Afghans.”

In a Facebook post, Sarwar Danesh, Afghanistan’s second vice president, described Khahsa’s killing as “a slap in the face of all people of Afghanistan ... an insult against humanity and dignity,” and a violation of “justice, knowledge and art.”

Ross Wilson, the US charge d’affaires in Kabul, also condemned the killing. “Nazar Mohammad ‘Khasha’ was a beloved comedian, bringing laughter and joy to his community even in dark times,” he tweeted.

“The Taliban kidnapped and lynched him, then gleefully published video evidence on Twitter. We condemn these sickening actions and the Taliban leadership should too.”

The Taliban may have picked on Khasha for more than just his social media antics; he was also a police officer in Kandahar and a former soldier.

The group accepted responsibility for the murder after initially denying involvement, saying Khasha was not killed for his comedy routines but for alleged abusive treatment of civilians and collaboration with US forces. It has not produced any evidence to back up that claim.

Maryam Durrani, a prominent women’s rights activist in Kandahar, told Arab News that Khasha “was not a well-known, professional artist or comedian, but a village entertainer, about whom villagers made some short videos for fun.”

If Khasha was targeted in part for perceived affiliations with departing US forces, then Afghans who acted as interpreters and translators for the Western-backed Kabul government or US-affiliated organizations since 2001 many not be able to live freely without fear of reprisal from the Taliban.

Up to 18,000 Afghans who worked for the US military have applied for Special Immigration Visas to the US in recent months in the hope of escaping Taliban retribution. There is mounting public pressure on Western governments to evacuate Afghans who worked with their forces.

Afghan families gather at a refugee camp in Kandahar after fleeing their homes amid fighting between  Taliban and government security forces on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Aved Tanveer/AFP)

Khasha served for many years as a member of a local police force in Kandahar, but information about his relationship with the community in that capacity is scarce.

Local police in Kandahar historically have a bad reputation for abuses and atrocities against civilians in their fight against militants, including attacks prompted by tribal rivalries, extortion and other crimes.

A series of older videos and images online appear to show Khasha carrying assault rifles on various occasions.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed that Khasha was arrested by the group’s fighters and killed while in its custody, but claimed that he tried to snatch a gun, adding that the incident would be investigated.

“He had served for 18 years as a commander for a post, carried arms, worked with the US and was involved in extortion and brutal acts. He was not a comedian nor an innocent person. We are also investigating why he was killed without a trial,” Mujahid told Arab News.

In the words of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, Kandahar comic Khasha was killed when he snatched a gun from his captors. (AFP photo)

Khasha’s killing follows government allegations that the Taliban has murdered scores of people from one tribe in the Spin Boldak area of Kandahar, where the militants have made inroads since US-led forces began reducing their troop presence in May.

The Taliban denies it is committing such abuses and says it will allow an international investigation. However, reports emerging from areas overrun by the group in recent months tell a different story.

The Taliban is making rapid advances across the country, capitalizing on the final withdrawal of foreign troops — capturing districts, seizing key border crossings, and encircling provincial capitals.

As US and NATO forces leave, people within and outside Afghanistan have voiced concern about the cohesion of the country in the wake of soaring ethnic and tribal tensions, waves of troop surrenders and a weakened central government.

According to US defense officials, the Taliban has taken control of about half of the country’s districts.

In some areas the group is again introducing its harsh interpretation of Islamic rule that earned it notoriety until it was overthrown by the US-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In areas controlled by the Taliban, women are required to wear burqas, with no exception. (Photo by Sajjad Hussain / AFP)

In the areas it has retaken, schools have allegedly been burned to the ground and restrictions placed on the liberties of women, akin to those imposed on communities when the group ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

During those years, women were ordered to stay indoors unless accompanied by a male guardian, girls were banned from school, and those found guilty of crimes such as adultery were stoned to death.

Men had more freedom but were ordered not to shave their beards, would be beaten if they failed to attend prayers, and were told to only wear traditional clothing.

Afghanistan is deeply conservative and some rural pockets of the country adhere to similar rules even without Taliban oversight — but the group has tried to impose these edicts even in more modern centers.

The Taliban insist they will protect human rights — particularly those of women — but only according to “Islamic values,” which are interpreted differently across the Muslim world.

 


Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

Days of torrential rain have left the Balukhali camp for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, flooded. (Photo courtesy: Mohammad Kasem)
Updated 35 min 54 sec ago

Deadly floods, landslides hit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

  • More than 2,000 families were evacuated from the hilly slopes of the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar
  • Met office expert warns that the extreme weather-related incidents could continue for several days

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have evacuated nearly 10,000 Rohingya refugees from makeshift settlements in the Cox’s Bazar district, after at least six were killed by landslides and flash floods in the past four days, officials said on Thursday.

Cox’s Bazar, where more than 1 million Rohingya refugees live in 34 camps, is one of the most disaster-prone parts of Bangladesh. After days of torrential rain the refugees were moved from the cramped Balukhali camp, where many makeshift homes have been built on hilly slopes prone to landslides and mudslides.

“About 8,000 to 10,000 people from 2,000 families were relocated from their tents,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Shah Rezwan Hayat told Arab News.

According to commission, six refugees were killed when the worst landslide hit the camp on Tuesday.

“Our prime focus at this moment is to save the people’s lives,” Shamsuddouza Nayan, additional commissioner for refugees, relief and repatriation, told Arab News. “We are continuously monitoring the situation on ground. Thousands of Rohingyas who are vulnerable have been relocated to nearby learning centers and other safe places.”

While he expressed hope the situation would not worsen, as floodwater levels have started to fall, he added: “Everything depends on weather, which is unpredictable.”

Bangladesh Meteorological Department director Shamsuddin Ahmed was less optimistic, warning that extreme weather-related incidents could continue for several days. Intense rainfall, floods and landslides are an annual problem in the area due to its monsoon climate and its location on the Bay of Bengal.

“There is a clear low pressure on the Bay of Bengal, which is causing this adverse weather, and there are possibilities of heavy rainfall due to this monsoon low,” he said. “Some of the areas may go under water due to flash floods, and in some hilly regions there might be incidents of landslides.”

Some refugees said they had lost everything in the landslides.

“I lost all of my belongings as my tent went under the piles of mud,” Abdur Rahman, a father of three, told Arab News. “We could only save our lives from the devastating landslide.

“Now I have to start from zero with empty hands. I have no idea how I will manage the utensils and other household materials.”

Bibi Hajera said the extreme weather has heightened suffering of the refugees who were already struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdowns.

“My five-year-old son, Mohammad Solaiman, has got a cold and fever,” she said. “Our six-member family has been evacuated to a learning center along with some other families. Now I am waiting for a doctor to get medicine for my son.”

Most of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh fled Rakhine state in Myanmar after a military crackdown in 2017 that the UN has said might amount to genocide.

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Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

Updated 29 July 2021

Germany to require proof of COVID immunity or negative test on arrival — sources

  • Rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday
  • Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings

BERLIN: All travelers arriving in Germany will be required from this weekend to demonstrate immunity from COVID-19 either from a vaccine or previous infection, or present a negative test result, government sources reported.
The plan reflects growing concern among Germany’s regional and national leaders that rising caseloads in tourist destinations could help fuel a fourth wave when Germans come home from holiday.
Germany now requires a negative test or proof of immunity only from those arriving from so-called “risk areas,” “high-incidence areas” and “virus-variant areas,” which in Europe now include Britain, Spain and the Netherlands.
Rules are now also applied differently at airports and road crossings, and regional leaders are keen to make them more consistent.
Germany saw 3,142 new infections on Thursday, according to its main disease fighting agency, the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases. Average daily new cases in Britain stand at almost 30,000.
After an initial slow start, Germany has swiftly implemented widespread vaccination, with 61.3 percent of the population receiving at least one shot, dramatically reducing the disease’s severity and lethality.


Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

Updated 29 July 2021

Lawyers warn Danish Syria policy could set ‘dangerous precedent’ for refugees

  • More than 1,200 Syrians, mostly women and the elderly, set to be affected after parts of Damascus marked safe for return
  • Denmark does not recognize Assad regime on account of human rights abuses

LONDON: Lawyers taking the Danish government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over its efforts to deport Syrian refugees warn that the move will set a “dangerous precedent.”
Denmark recently began rejecting temporary residency status renewal applications from many Syrians in the country after it determined that security in parts of Syria had “improved significantly,” including the capital Damascus.
This comes despite the government in Copenhagen having no diplomatic ties to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad over ongoing human rights abuses, which would lead to many proposed deportees being left indefinitely in detention centers.
About 1,200 of the 35,000 Syrians living in Denmark are set to be affected by the change in policy, as the Scandinavian nation, previously considered one of the world’s most tolerant and open societies, feels the political impact of a rise in support for the far-right Danish People’s Party.
A similar policy in 2018 revoking the status of hundreds of Somalis in Denmark led to many leaving or disappearing altogether, with the Danish Refugee Council saying they had moved to other countries without official status.
Lawyers from London-based international human rights chambers Guernica 37 said in a note: “The situation in Denmark is deeply concerning. While the risk of direct conflict-related violence may have diminished in some parts of Syria, the risk of political violence remains as great as ever, and refugees returning from Europe are being targeted by regime security forces.
“If the Danish government’s efforts to forcibly return refugees to Syria is successful, it will set a dangerous precedent, which several other European states are likely to follow.”
Guernica 37 is part of a group including 150 Danish law firms pushing back against the new policy.
Carl Buckley, the lead barrister from the chambers, said: “The ECHR is a slow-moving system, but we would make an application asking the court to consider interim measures, which would involve ordering Denmark to stop revoking residencies until a substantive complaint has been considered and ruled upon.”
Jens Rye-Andersen, a Danish immigration lawyer, said that he believed public opinion was on the side of refugees and that he believed the government would change its stance before the case reached the ECHR.
“There have been a lot of changes in the asylum system in the last two years and clearly it’s not working very well. Experts who compiled the initial report the government used to show the security situation in Syria has improved are saying that their work has been misquoted. So I think the government doesn’t have a choice except to reconsider.”
As a result of the Syrian regime’s policy of conscripting young men to serve in its armed forces or punishing others for desertion, the majority of those set to lose their residency status are women or the elderly — with several refugees saying it could end up splitting families.
Ghalia, a 27 year old who arrived in 2015, had her residency permit revoked in March. She told The Guardian newspaper: “I feel nothing but fear about going into the immigration center by myself, but I can’t return to Syria … it is like they believe we have a choice but if I go back, I will be arrested.
“I have no control over my life and I feel like I haven’t done anything to deserve this.”
Faeza, a 25-year-old nurse who had her residency revoked in January, said: “I was interviewed for eight hours. I was asked over and over why hadn’t I returned to Syria? I said because it wasn’t safe.” The ruling was overturned in July, but she added: “I am now worried (in case it happens again). As Syrian refugees, we are subject to unjust decisions.”


8.2 magnitude earthquake off Alaskan peninsula, tsunami warning

Updated 29 July 2021

8.2 magnitude earthquake off Alaskan peninsula, tsunami warning

  • Tsunami warning sirens could be heard on Kodiak, an island with a population of about 6,000 people
  • Alaska was hit by a 9.2-magnitude earthquake in March 1964, the strongest ever recorded in North America

WASHINGTON: An 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the Alaskan peninsula late Wednesday, the United States Geological Survey said, prompting a tsunami warning.
The earthquake hit 56 miles (91 kilometers) southeast of the town of Perryville, the USGS said. The US government issued a tsunami warning for south Alaska and the Alaskan peninsula.
“Hazardous tsunami waves for this earthquake are possible within the next three hours along some coasts,” the US Tsunami Warning System said in a statement.
Perryville is a small village about 500 miles from Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city.
Tsunami warning sirens could be heard on Kodiak, an island with a population of about 6,000 people, along Alaska’s coastline.
The quake struck at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday (0615 GMT Thursday).
A broadcaster on local radio station KMXT said a tsunami, if it was generated, would hit Kodiak at 11:55 pm.
Videos posted on social media by journalists and residents in Kodiak showed people driving away from the coast as warning sirens could be heard.
A tsunami watch was also issued for Hawaii, meaning residents are required to stay away from beaches.
Five aftershocks were recorded within 90 minutes of the earthquake, the largest with a magnitude of 6.2, according to the USGS.
Alaska is part of the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire.
Alaska was hit by a 9.2-magnitude earthquake in March 1964, the strongest ever recorded in North America.
It devastated Anchorage and unleashed a tsunami that slammed the Gulf of Alaska, the US west coast, and Hawaii.
More than 250 people were killed by the quake and the tsunami.
A 7.5 magnitude earthquake also caused tsunami waves in Alaska’s southern coast in October, but no casualties were reported.

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