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Constitutional crisis looms in Sri Lanka after president sacks PM

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Colombo :Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the country’s prime minister and his cabinet and replaced him with a former strongman, creating what some observers said could be a constitutional crisis in the South Asian island nation.

The prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, told reporters that he had no intention of leaving his post. “I have the majority. I will function as the prime minister. I will remain as the prime minister,” he said.

Sirisena informed Wickremesinghe that he was being replaced by his former nemesis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, according to aide Mahinda Amaraweera.

 

Amaraweera, a lawmaker from Rajapaksa’s party, said Rajapaksa had a majority needed in the 225-member Parliament for him to take over, but a recent constitutional amendment makes that unclear, experts said.

Constitutional lawyers, political activists and pundits debated on social media and Sri Lankan TV into early Saturday whether Wickremesinghe’s ouster was legitimate.

The constitution says the president has the right to appoint someone he thinks has a majority in Parliament.

But the 19th amendment, added in 2015, says a prime minister can only be removed when he or she ceases to be a member of Parliament such as for failing to meet criteria to be an elector or candidate, when a vote of no-confidence is passed, or when he or she chooses to resign.

“At the moment, there is a constitutional crisis two persons each claiming to be the prime minister,” said Jehan Perera, executive director of the nonpartisan National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.

“What the president now should do immediately is to summon Parliament and have a vote. That’s the democratic way to resolve this crisis,” Perera said.

Rajapaksa ruled Sri Lanka as president for nine years beginning in 2005, accumulating immense power and popularity among the country’s majority ethnic Sinhalese after overseeing the military’s brutal defeat of ethnic Tamil rebels in 2009, ending a 25-year civil war. Some supporters hailed him as a king and savior.

But he also was criticized for failing to allow an investigation into allegations of war crimes by the military. Under his government, dozens of journalists were killed, abducted and tortured and some fled the country fearing for their lives. He lost a bid for re-election in 2015 amid mounting allegations of corruption and nepotism.

His return to power as prime minister could signal that Sri Lanka is sliding back to an era of violence against political opponents, critics and journalists, observers said.

The move was an unexpected turn after weeks of controversy over allegations of an assassination plot against the president.

A police informant and self-described Sri Lankan anti-corruption activist, Namal Kumara, said last month that he had a taped conversation with Nalaka de Silva, head of the terrorism investigation department, describing a plan for a hired killer to assassinate Sirisena.

An Indian man whom authorities identified as M. Thomas was arrested at Kumara’s house on suspicion of involvement in the plot. Thomas appeared in court Tuesday and was sent to a psychiatric hospital for further medical examination.


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US warn Turkey of facing ‘very negative’ consequences over S-400 deal

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Washington: The United States on Wednesday warned that Turkey will have to face “very real and very negative consequences” if Ankara finalises the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems.

In a statement, the State Department said, “We have said that the S-400 defence system, the acquisition of that would have serious consequences for the US and NATO’s defence relationship with Turkey.”

“We’re clearly willing to engage with them and have continued to engage regarding our concerns on this acquisition, but there will be very real and very negative consequences if that happens,” it added.

 

Turkey has repeatedly rejected US ultimatums for cancelling S-400 shipments and the purchase of American Patriot batteries instead. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned to the US ultimatum on Wednesday by calling it unacceptable, Sputnik reports.

In December 2017, Moscow and Ankara signed a loan agreement for the delivery of S-400 air defence systems to Turkey. Since then, the United States and NATO have criticised Turkey’s move, citing security concerns and incompatibility with NATO air defence systems.

Washington had earlier threatened Turkey with sanctions for its planned acquisition of S-400s and repeatedly said it may delay or cancel the sales of F-35 aircraft to Ankara. Turkey is one of the seven states that participate in the F-35 program.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on last Saturday told Al Jazeera that the S-400 deal with Russia was done and wouldn’t change.

“There is absolutely no question of [Turkey] taking a step back from the S-400 purchase. That is a done deal,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.

He also said Turkey and Russia would jointly produce S-500 defence systems after Ankara’s controversial purchase of the S-400s from Moscow.

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Man busted for threatening to bomb Trump tower in New York

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Washington: A 20-year-old New Jersey man accused of threatening on social media to “shoot everybody” at a pro-Israel march and bomb the Trump Tower skyscraper in New York City was arrested on Wednesday on a string of federal charges, prosecutors said.

Jonathan Xie, of Basking Ridge, was taken into custody on charges of attempting to provide material support to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip and which the United States designates as a terrorist organization, making false statements and transmitting threats over interstate commerce, according to federal prosecutors.

“Homegrown violent extremists like Xie are a serious threat to national security,” US Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement. “The actions that he took and planned to take made that threat both clear and present.”

 

According to the charging documents, Xie appeared in an Instagram Live video in April 2019 wearing a black ski mask and displayed a handgun as he expressed the desire to attack demonstrators at a pro-Israel rally.

“I want to shoot the pro-Israel demonstrators … you can get a gun and shoot your way through or use a vehicle and ram people … all you need is a gun or vehicle to go on a rampage….I do not care if security forces come after me, they will have to put a bullet in my head to stop me,” Xie said in the video, according to the court papers.

That same month Xie was spotted outside of Trump Tower, headquarters of the businesses owned by US President Donald Trump. He later posted photos of the building on Instagram along with a poll asking if he should bomb it.

“Okay, so I went to NYC today and passed by Trump Tower and then I started laughing hysterically … I forgot to visit the Israeli embassy in NYC … I want to bomb this place along with trump tower,” Xie said in a separate post detailed in the court documents.

In February 2019 Xie said he wanted to join the US Army in hopes of learning “how to kill” and applied for a security clearance as a first step, prosecutors say.

He is also accused of sending money to an individual in the Gaza Strip aligned with a faction of Hamas that has carried out attacks against civilian targets in Israel.

It was not immediately clear if Xie, who faces more than 30 years in federal prison if convicted on all charges, had retained an attorney.

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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro wins, Justice Minister loses in Congress

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Brasilia: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro surmounted a crucial hurdle for his young government on Wednesday by winning approval from disgruntled lower house lawmakers for his move to reorganize the country’s executive branch.

But lawmakers voted against putting the Council for Financial Activities Control (COAF), a key tool for flagging suspicious funds moving through the banking system, under the control of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a former judge who jailed many politicians in the sweeping corruption probe known as Car Wash.

“I lament what happened,” Moro said, according to newspaper O Globo. “It’s part of the democratic debate.”

 

The vote on the first decree Bolsonaro issued the day he took office in January was a test of his ability to govern without courting traditional parties in Congress, which is threatening to derail his agenda after months of mutual antagonism.

The decree that reduced the number of ministries to 20, from 29 previously, was due to expire on June 3.Failure to gain approval would have thrown the government into crisis, forcing a ministry reshuffle and increasing doubts that he can rally support for an ambitious pension reform bill – the cornerstone of his economic agenda – now in the hands of a political class he openly insults.

A former army captain and apologist for Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, Bolsonaro wielded little influence in his three decades in Congress and cast his grassroots campaign as a crusade against the horse trading of Brazil’s “old politics.”

“Bolsonaro despises democracy. We have to isolate his anti-democratic attitude and lack of respect for institutions so this does not paralyse the country,” lawmaker Marcelo Ramos, chairman of the congressional committee on pension reform, told Reuters.

Ramos said Bolsonaro was unable to build a coalition with the 308 votes needed to pass the pension bill, aimed at saving 1.2 trillion reais (USD 300 billion) in a decade to restore investor confidence and jump-start a weak economy. Ramos estimated the bill could currently only muster 200 votes.

Bolsonaro has said he would rather work with issue-focused caucuses than party leaders and has called on his supporters via social media to pressure lawmakers obstructing his agenda.

He attacked the political class on Monday for being the country’s “big problem” and blamed interest groups for impeding him from governing.

Lawmakers passed the decree despite their frustration with Bolsonaro’s refusal to reach out to them with government jobs and support for projects in their constituencies.

However, their decision to keep the COAF under the Economy Ministry was a set-back for Bolsonaro and especially Moro, who has declared war on the country’s entrenched culture of political graft and impunity.

The move had alarmed some lawmakers, many of whom are under investigation on suspicion of corruption.

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