The three key men in Sri Lanka’s cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - International -

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis has dra­mat­i­cally es­ca­lated, with the pres­i­dent call­ing snap elec­tions and dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment, two weeks af­ter sack­ing the prime min­is­ter. Here are the main play­ers in the volatile po­lit­i­cal scene of back-stab­bing and shift­ing sands in the strate­gi­cally im­por­tant In­dian Ocean is­land of 21 mil­lion peo­ple.

The quiet Sri Lankan Mild-man­nered but steely-nerved Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena, 67, was a rel­a­tive un­known un­til his shock de­feat of Mahinda Ra­japakse in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2015. Sirisena had walked out of Ra­japakse’s gov­ern­ment a day af­ter the two men had din­ner to­gether, and ac­cused his for­mer ally of plot­ting to as­sas­si­nate him if he lost the elec­tion. “If I had not won the pres­i­dency, I would be six feet un­der by now,” he told a pub­lic rally af­ter his win. Usu­ally dressed in spot­less white, Sirisena vowed to do all in his power to stop the highly di­vi­sive Ra­japakse MEL­BOURNE: A So­mali-born Aus­tralian who car­ried out a deadly knife ram­page in Mel­bourne held ex­trem­ist views and was known to in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, au­thor­i­ties said yes­ter­day, as they car­ried out raids and in­ter­viewed dozens of wit­nesses. Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice said 30year-old Has­san Khalif Shire Ali-who was shot dead af­ter driv­ing a 4x4 laden with gas cylin­ders into the city cen­tre and stab­bing three peo­ple-fled to Aus­tralia as a child with his fam­ily in the 1980s.

He stabbed three peo­ple be­fore be­ing con­fronted by mem­bers of the pub­lic and armed of­fi­cers who even­tu­ally shot him in the chest. One of his vic­tims died at the scene while two oth­ers were wounded. Au­thor­i­ties have ques­tioned around 35 peo­ple who saw the rush hour at­tack, which al­though crude, was said to have been de­signed to “cause ter­ror and cause max­i­mum ca­su­al­ties” in the heart Aus­tralia’s bustling sec­ond city.

Dif­fi­cult ques­tions Armed of­fi­cers raided two ad­dresses in the west and north­east of the city, linked to the per­pe­tra­tor’s fam­ily and as­so­ci­ates, al­though there is not thought to be an on­go­ing threat. The man killed by Shire Ali was named by lo­cal me­dia as 74-year-old Sisto Malaspina, an icon of Mel­bourne’s thriv­ing culi­nary cul­ture who ran a fa­mous Ital­ian cafe. Two other men wounded in the at­tack are still be­ing treated but are ex­pected to make a re­cov­ery.

be­com­ing prime min­is­ter and ap­pointed Ranil Wick­remesinghe in­stead. Two weeks ago-al­most four years af­ter he first turned his back on Ra­japak­seSirisena dis­missed Wick­remesinghe and ap­pointed Ra­japakse in his place. Late Fri­day he called elec­tions and dis­solved par­lia­ment.

Ma­cho Mahinda Hav­ing loaned his gov­ern­ment bil­lions, China swiftly con­grat­u­lated Ra­japakse, 72, on his new ap­point­ment but In­dia and the West were less pleased-to say lit­tle of the Tamil mi­nor­ity. As pres­i­dent from 2005 un­til 2015, Ra­japakse ended Sri Lanka’s four­decade civil war in 2009 by crush­ing the Tamil Tigers. But 40,000 eth­nic Tamils were al­legedly mas­sa­cred in the process. Sri Lanka’s me­dia, re­mem­ber­ing the 17 jour­nal­ists and me­dia work­ers killed un­der Ra­japakse, are also fear­ful about his come­back. He and his fam­ily are also ac­cused of cor­rup­tion. But with his trade­mark ma­cho mous­tache, tra­di­tional na­tional dress and out­size per­son­al­ity, Ra­japakse re­mains a hero for many Sin­halese, deftly por­tray­ing him­self as a man of the peo­ple. “A gen­eral elec­tion will truly es­tab­lish the will of the peo­ple and make way for a sta­ble coun­try,” he tweeted in the early hours of yes­ter­day.

Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties now face dif­fi­cult ques­tions about how Shire Ali, who was known to the Aus­tralian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Or­ga­ni­za­tion for at least three years, was able to carry out an at­tack. He had his Aus­tralian pass­port re­voked in 2015 amid fears he was try­ing to travel to Syria to join the Is­lamic State group. His brother will go on trial next year on sep­a­rate ter­ror-re­lated charges-ac­cused of try­ing to ac­quire a firearm and kill peo­ple in a New Years’ Eve crowd. “The as­sess­ment was made that whilst he had rad­i­cal­ized views he didn’t pose a threat to the na­tional se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment,” Ian Mccart­ney, a fed­eral po­lice coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial said of Shire Ali.

Mccart­ney de­scribed the at­tack as a “wake up call” even as the Is­lamic State loses ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria, where Aus­tralian forces are part of a coali­tion fight­ing the group. “The cir­cum­stances of how he and when he moved from hav­ing these rad­i­cal­ized views to car­ry­ing out this at­tack yes­ter­day will be a key fo­cus of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Mccart­ney added. The Is­lamic State group-which of­ten claims re­spon­si­bil­ity for such at­tacks-said via its pro­pa­ganda arm that the per­pe­tra­tor was an “Is­lamic State fighter and car­ried out the op­er­a­tion.”

It pro­vided no ev­i­dence to back its claim. Wit­ness footage showed po­lice strug­gling for at least a minute to cor­ral the tow­er­ing man as he lunged, slashed and stabbed wildly at two of­fi­cers. At least two mem­bers of the pub­lic stepped in to help po­lice. One man was armed with a cafe chair while an­other-swiftly dubbed an “Aussie hero” on so­cial me­dia-re­peat­edly tried to ram the sus­pect with an empty me­tal shop­ping cart. But the at­tacks con­tin­ued un­abated

I will not be moved

But Wick­remesinghe, 69, calls his sack­ing, the snap elec­tions and the sus­pen­sion of par­lia­ment il­le­gal, and is re­fus­ing to va­cate the prime min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence, where he has been holed up since Oc­to­ber 26. Sil­ver-haired and of­ten in Western-style suits, Wick­remesinghe has been prime min­is­ter four times, the first time af­ter the Tamil Tigers as­sas­si­nated be­fore one of­fi­cer opted for lethal force, shoot­ing the sus­pect in the chest.

‘Tried to deesca­late’

The of­fi­cers “tried to ver­bally deesca­late” said Vic­to­ria Po­lice Chief Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ash­ton. “Once the of­fi­cer is off the view that there is an im­mi­nent threat to life,” he added. “That is when firearms are drawn.” Wit­ness Chris Newport, 60, de­scribed how he had been re­turn­ing from a job in­ter­view when he heard a loud noise and saw a truck on fire, rolling across the tram tracks be­fore a sec­ond, louder bang.

“In a split sec­ond ev­ery­thing changes” Newport told AFP, de­scrib­ing Shire Ali man­i­cally bran­dish­ing a knife. “You can’t imag­ine some­one de­cid­ing to do that.” Po­lice said that his im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice was made up of gas cylin­ders and some form of lighter and “cer­tainly wasn’t the then-pres­i­dent in 1993. Dur­ing his 2001-4 time in of­fice, Wick­remesinghe is cred­ited with pulling Sri Lanka out of its first ever re­ces­sion, in part with re­forms that have en­deared him to the West. “You have not let this coun­try be plunged into the dark­ness of dic­ta­tor­ship,” Wick­remesinghe said in a video mes­sage on Thurs­day thank­ing his sup­port­ers. —AFP

Mel­bourne knife at­tacker named as known ex­trem­ist

so­phis­ti­cated”. Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said the coun­try would be un­flinch­ing in the fight against “rad­i­cal, vi­o­lent... ex­trem­ist Is­lam that op­poses our very way of life”. Shire Ali “sought to in­still fear in our na­tion. Like those who tried be­fore him, this ter­ror­ist failed,” he said.

He cited more than a dozen foiled ter­ror plots as ev­i­dence that Aus­tralians could have faith in their coun­tert­er­ror­ism au­thor­i­ties. Mel­bourne is Aus­tralia’s sec­ond largest city, a cos­mopoli­tan metropo­lis of al­most five mil­lion peo­ple famed for its cafes, bars, restau­rants and high stan­dard of liv­ing. Fri­day’s at­tack was a dou­ble blow for the city as it co­in­cides with an on­go­ing mur­der trial of 28-year-old James Gar­ga­soulas, ac­cused of plough­ing his car into crowds in the same area in 2017, killing six peo­ple. The mo­tives for that at­tack are still un­clear. —AFP

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Pres­i­dent Maithri­pala Sirisena waves to sup­port­ers at a rally in Colombo. —AFP

MEL­BOURNE: Po­lice ques­tion a man near the scene where a man was killed in knife ram­page in Mel­bourne. —AFP

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