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Pompeo to ask China partner Sri Lanka to make ‘difficult’ choices

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will ask Sri Lanka to make “difficult” choices on its growing relationship with China amid criticism the island is sliding toward authoritarianism, an official said Thursday.

Pompeo plans to warn of risks surrounding China on a trip next week that will take him to Colombo as well as India, Maldives and Indonesia.

The trip will come days after Sri Lanka’s parliament voted to give sweeping new powers to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a move that the opposition decried as a step toward authoritarian rule.

The populist leader enjoys diplomatic and economic support from China, which lent billions of dollars for projects to Sri Lanka when his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president — including several white elephants that left the island with a mountain of debt.

Dean Thompson, the top US diplomat for South Asia, said Pompeo will raise with Sri Lanka “human rights, reconciliation and our common commitment to democracy.”

“We’re looking to frame a discussion with them about a more positive trajectory,” he told reporters.

“We encourage Sri Lanka to review the options we offer for transparent and sustainable economic development, in contrast to discriminatory and opaque practices,” he said, in clear reference to China.

“We urge Sri Lanka to make difficult but necessary decisions to secure its economic independence for long-term prosperity.”

Rajapaksa has also threatened to pull Sri Lanka out of the UN Human Rights Council if it keeps accusing Colombo of war crimes, including the killing of 40,000 civilians while crushing the brutal Tamil Tiger insurgency in 2009.

 

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has withdrawn from the UN body over what it says is a bias against ally Israel.

Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, last year scrapped a previously planned trip to Sri Lanka that was meant to show solidarity after Islamist attacks killed 269 people on Easter Sunday.

Pompeo will be the first US secretary of state since Colin Powell in 2004 to visit Maldives, an archipelago which has also seen a spurt of interest from China, alarming US-friendly regional power India. (AFP)



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Economic crisis: 100,000 families already starving

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Govt. to provide monthly assistance package – official

By Ifham Nizam 

Plans are underway to assist an average needy family of  four with a monthly package of Rs. 15,000, a senior adviser to President Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday, adding that the move was expected to help ameliorate the plight of nearly 65,000 families.

Food Security Committee Chairman Dr. Suren Batagoda told The Island yesterday that at present some 100,000 families across the country were starving.

He said financial assistance would be provided to those families for three months. Within three months, the government would design a package in the form of food stamps, etc.

Dr. Batagoda said the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the World Bank, and state agencies would also team up to strengthen food security, focusing especially on needy pregnant mothers and pre-school children.

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GR govt. ignored Chinese lenders’ request for debt restructuring

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Gotabaya Rajapaksa government had ignored suggestions by Chinese lending institutions that Sri Lanka to restructure the debt in 2021, Prof. Samitha Hettige said yesterday.

“The Rajapaksa government started talking of debt restructuring earlier this year. The Opposition had been asking for this before,” he said.  By 2021, before the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration decided on debt restructuring, the Chinese institutions that had given Sri Lanka loans suggested that a restructuring process should start since Sri Lanka would have trouble repaying the loans, the Strategic Studies scholar said.

However, the request had gone unheeded, and if the government had started discussions then, Sri Lanka would not have been in crisis, Prof. Hettige said.

The Sri Lankan foreign policy, in the last few years, had also been misguided, Prof. Hettige said. A number of Indian and Chinese companies faced unnecessary issues by the behaviour of the government, he said.

Prof. Hettige said that the government must focus on establishing free trade ports and reducing negative lists for investments.

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SJB dissociates itself from SF’s call for protest

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By Chaminda Silva

MP Sarath Fonseka’s call for people to join anti-government protests was not a decision taken by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), party MP J.C Alawathuwala said.

The SJB believed that they had to help President Ranil Wickremesinghe stabilise the country, economically and politically, he said.

MP Alawathuwala said the President must be given some time to solve the problems faced by the people and that the SJB was holding discussions with the government to guide it on a people-friendly path.

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