Sri Lankan woman rickshaw driver has to queue 12 hours, or more, for fuel

Lasanda Deepthi, 43, an auto-rickshaw driver for local ride hailing app PickMe, talks to other drivers as they wait in a queue to buy petrol at a fuel station in Gonapola town, on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 23, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 May 2022

Sri Lankan woman rickshaw driver has to queue 12 hours, or more, for fuel

  • Deepthi is one of millions of people in Sri Lanka battling galloping inflation, falling incomes and shortages of everything from fuel to medicine

GONAPOLA, Sri Lanka: Lasanda Deepthi, a 43-year-old Sri Lankan woman, plans her day around fuel queues.
The driver of an auto-rickshaw on the outskirts of the commercial capital Colombo, she keeps a close eye on the petrol gauge of her sky-blue three-wheeler before accepting a job to make sure she has enough fuel.
When the needle is close to empty, she joins the line outside a gas station. Sometimes, she waits through the night for petrol and when she does get it, it costs two-and-a-half times the amount it did eight months ago.
Deepthi is one of millions of people in Sri Lanka battling galloping inflation, falling incomes and shortages of everything from fuel to medicine as the country reels under its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
A woman auto-rickshaw driver is a rare sight on the island of 22 million people off the southern coast of India.
But it’s a job Deepthi has done for seven years to support her family of five, by using local ride-hailing app PickMe.
Since the financial crisis hit, she has been scrambling to find adequate petrol and earn enough as rides dwindled and inflation surged past 30 percent year-on-year.
Her monthly income of about 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($138) started falling from January and is now less than half of what she used to earn.
“I spend more time in line for petrol than doing anything else,” Deepthi said. “Sometimes I join a line about 3 p.m. but only get fuel about 12 hours later.
“A couple of times I made it to the front of the queue only to have the fuel run out,” she added as she made tea in her small, two-bedroom rented house in Gonapola, a small town on the outskirts of Colombo, where she lives with her mother and three younger brothers.
She is separated from her spouse and has a married daughter.
In mid-May, Deepthi said she spent two-and-a-half days in a queue for petrol, assisted by one of her brothers.
“I don’t have words to describe how terrible it is,” she said, “I don’t feel safe sometimes in the night but there is nothing else to do.”
In a now familiar routine on one recent morning, she changed her clothes, filled a bottle of water, wiped down her auto-rickshaw and lit an incense stick to seek divine blessings before getting into the vehicle.
Her mission, like most days, is to find petrol, prices of which have soared 259 percent since October 2021, as the government slashed subsidies to try and stabilize a teetering economy.
The roots of Sri Lanka’s current crisis lie in the COVID-19 pandemic, which devastated the lucrative tourism industry and sapped foreign workers’ remittances, and populist tax cuts enacted by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.
Angry at the widespread shortages and accusing the powerful Rajapaksa family of mishandling the economy, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Sri Lanka in recent months to stage mostly peaceful demonstrations.
New Prime Minister Ranil Wickrememsinghe, who was also appointed as the country’s finance minister last week, plans to introduce a budget in six weeks that will cut expenditure “to the bone” and route it to a two-year welfare program.
His policies are also expected to push forward negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a badly-needed loan package.
But Deepthi is disillusioned.
The car she bought with her savings had to be sold last year after she fell short on lease payments.
A second auto-rickshaw, usually driven by one of her brothers, needs repairs, which the family can barely afford. She is more than 100,000 rupees behind on loan payments for a piece of land she bought before the pandemic.
Deepthi also wants to visit her three-month-old grand-daughter but is not sure how she can travel 170 km (105 miles) to the seaside town of Matara where her daughter, a nurse, lives.
“I can barely afford enough rice and vegetables for my family,” she said. “I can’t find medicines my mother needs. How will we live next month? I don’t know what our future will be like.”


Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

Updated 11 sec ago

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

  • Truss: Conservatives must unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain
BIRMINGHAM: British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday urged her fractious party to stick together and help transform the economy and the country, fighting to restore her dwindling authority after a chaotic first month in office.
Addressing Conservative lawmakers and members at an annual conference overshadowed by internal bickering and confusion over policy, Truss said the party needed to unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain.
So far, however, her misfiring attempt to cut $51 billion (£45 billion) of taxes and hike government borrowing has sent turmoil through markets and her party, with opinion polls pointing to electoral collapse rather than a honeymoon period for the new leader.
“We gather at a vital time for the United Kingdom. These are stormy days,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
“In these tough times, we need to step up. I’m determined to get Britain moving, to get us through the tempest and to put us on a stronger footing.”
As she started to speak, two protesters held up a sign asking “Who voted for this?” before they were escorted away by security personnel as the crowd chanted “out, out, out.”
Truss, elected by party members and not the broader electorate, was addressing the party faithful after she was forced to reverse plans to scrap the top rate of tax. She acknowledged that change brings “disruption.”
That U-turn has emboldened sections of her party who are now likely to resist spending cuts as the government seeks ways to fund the overall fiscal program.
That risks not only the dilution of her “radical” agenda but also raising the prospect of an early election.
Having entered the conference hall to a standing ovation and the sound of M People’s “Moving On UP,” Truss told party members and lawmakers that she wanted to build a “new Britain for the new era.”
“For too long, the political debate has been dominated by how we distribute a limited economic pie. Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice,” she said in the central English city of Birmingham.
“That is why I am determined to take a new approach and break us out of this high-tax, low-growth cycle.”
The conference, once expected to be her crowning glory after being appointed prime minister on Sept. 6, has turned into a personal nightmare, and a battle for the country’s political future.
As the debate moved on from tax cuts to how the government would fund them, lawmakers and ministers openly clashed, in stark contrast to the sense of discipline on display at the opposition Labour Party conference last week.
Some lawmakers fear Truss will break a commitment to increase benefit payments in line with inflation, something they argue would be inappropriate at a time when millions of families are struggling with the cost of soaring prices.
Ministers say they are yet to take a decision and are obliged to look at economic data later this month.
While markets have largely stabilized after the Bank of England stepped in to shore up the bond market — albeit after the cost of borrowing surged — opinion polls now point to an electoral collapse for the Conservatives.
John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, said before the speech that Labour now held an average lead of 25 percentage points and the Conservatives needed to accept they were “in deep, deep electoral trouble.”

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

Updated 54 min 41 sec ago

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

  • Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts

MOSCOW: Moscow said Wednesday it should be part of the probe into leaks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, after Sweden blocked off the area around the pipelines pending an investigation.
“There should really be an investigation. Naturally, with the participation of Russia,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said, as quoted by Russian news agencies.
Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, raising political tensions already sky high since the Kremlin sent troop to Ukraine in February.
On Friday, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the issue.
Vershinin told the assembly that “the general opinion was that this was sabotage and that it should be investigated” but that “no decision had been made” on an international probe.
Last Wednesday, Russia launched an “international terrorism” investigation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a probe “required the cooperation of several countries.”
He denounced an “acute shortage of communications and unwillingness of many countries to contact” Russia.
On Monday, Sweden blocked off the area around the pipeline leaks in the Baltic Sea while the suspected sabotage was being investigated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts.
Russia’s Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said Wednesday that “it is clear that the United States is the beneficiary, primarily economic” of the leaks.
Both Moscow and Washington have denied involvement.


Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

Updated 05 October 2022

Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

  • 20-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail is accused of making a threat to kill the late 96-year-old monarch

LONDON: A man accused of making a threat to kill the late Queen Elizabeth after being arrested at her Windsor Castle home on Christmas Day last year will go on trial next year, London’s Old Bailey Court heard on Wednesday.
Jaswant Singh Chail, 20, who has been charged under Britain’s Treason Act, is accused of making a threat to kill the 96-year-old monarch, possessing a loaded crossbow with intent to use it to injure the queen, and possession of an offensive weapon.
Elizabeth, who died last month, was at the castle on the day of the intrusion with her son and now King Charles and other close family members
Chail, who appeared at Wednesday’s hearing via videolink wearing a black hoodie, spoke only to confirm his name and his date of birth.
He was told the trial date was set to March 20 next and would last two to three weeks.
He did not enter a plea, the case was adjourned for further evidence to be obtained and Chail was detained in custody. The next hearing will take place at a date yet to be confirmed in December.


Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi allowed to leave Iran — State Department

Updated 05 October 2022

Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi allowed to leave Iran — State Department

  • Baquer Namazi was detained in February 2016 when he went to Iran to press for the release of his son Siamak
  • UN said last week that the pair had been allowed to leave Iran, after an appeal from its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

WASHINGTON: Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi has been allowed to leave Iran and his son has been granted furlough from prison, the State Department said Wednesday, confirming their release.

Namazi, a former UNICEF official, was detained in February 2016 when the 85-year-old went to Iran to press for the release of his son Siamak, who had been arrested in October of the previous year.

The United States has been pressing for the release of these two men and two other Americans amid efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major Western powers.

“Wrongfully detained US citizen Baquer Namazi has been permitted to depart Iran, and his son Siamak, also wrongfully detained, has been granted furlough from prison,” a State Department spokesperson told AFP.

It added that the older Namazi “was unjustly detained in Iran and then not permitted to leave the county after serving his sentence, despite his repeated requirement for urgent medical attention.”

“We understand that the lifting of the travel ban and his son’s furlough were related to his medical requirement.”

The United Nations said last week that the pair had been allowed to leave Iran, after an appeal from its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Both were convicted of espionage in October 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Baquer Namazi was released on medical leave in 2018 and had been serving his sentence under house arrest.

At least two other American citizens are currently held in Iran.

Businessman Emad Sharqi was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for espionage, and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who is also a British national, was arrested in 2018 and released on bail in July.

A drive to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal resumed in late November last year, after talks were suspended in June as Iran elected ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

The 2015 deal — agreed by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

But the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2018 under president Donald Trump and reimposed biting economic sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.

On Sunday, the United States rejected Iranian reports that Tehran’s release of US citizens would lead to the unfreezing of Iranian funds abroad.

“With the finalization of negotiations between Iran and the United States to release the prisoners of both countries, $7 billion of Iran’s blocked resources will be released,” the state news agency IRNA said.

But the State Department dismissed any such link as “categorically false.”

Billions of dollars in Iranian funds have been frozen in a number of countries — notably China, South Korea and Japan — since the US reimposed sanctions. 


Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia

Updated 05 October 2022

Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia

  • ASEAN has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the turmoil that has gripped Myanmar since the military seized power last year

PHNOM PENH: Myanmar’s junta leader has not been invited to a regional summit next month, host Cambodia said Wednesday, in a fresh diplomatic snub for the isolated military regime.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the turmoil that has gripped Myanmar since the military seized power last year.
But there has been little progress on a “five-point consensus” agreed with the junta, and its leader and ministers have been shut out of recent meetings of the 10-member regional bloc.
Linking the invitation to “progress in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus,” a Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman said the junta had been invited to “nominate a non-political representative for the upcoming ASEAN Summits.”
This means junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would not be allowed to attend, just as his top diplomat was barred from foreign ministers’ gatherings in Phnom Penh in February and August.
The five-point plan, agreed in April last year, calls for an immediate end to violence and dialogue between the military and the anti-coup movement.
There is growing dissatisfaction within ASEAN — sometimes criticized as a toothless talking shop — at the Myanmar generals’ stonewalling.
The junta’s execution of four prisoners in July, in defiance of widespread international calls for clemency, caused further anger.
August’s meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers ended with a rare condemnation from the bloc for the junta’s actions.
The ministers said they were “deeply disappointed by the limited progress in and lack of commitment of the Naypyidaw authorities to the timely and complete implementation of the five-point consensus.”
ASEAN’s own envoy tasked with brokering peace has admitted the scale of the task, saying “even Superman cannot solve” the crisis.
The regional bloc’s snub comes as Washington attempts to exert more pressure on the junta through the United Nations, following outrage over an air strike that killed 11 schoolchildren last month.
US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet held talks with other governments and with representatives of the self-declared National Unity Government — dominated by ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party — during the UN General Assembly earlier this month.
Myanmar is planning fresh elections in August next year, but Chollet warned there was “no chance” they could be free and fair.
The junta has justified its power grab pointing to alleged fraud in the 2020 elections, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won easily.
A military crackdown on dissent in the wake of the coup has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta, meanwhile, says the uprising against its rule has left almost 3,900 of its supporters dead.