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Country has asked for him: Mahinda Rajapaksa

Brothers in arms: Sri Lanka's former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa (R) with his brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on Sunday. REUTERSDINUKA LIYANAWATTE

Leader of Opposition and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday named his brother and controversial figure Gotabaya Rajapaksa as presidential candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front).

Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa also officially took charge as leader of the less-than-four-year-old party, that his loyalists founded in 2016, breaking away from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Presidential elections are due before the end of the year and the incumbent United National Party (UNP) is yet to announce its candidate, amid apparent disagreements between its leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the party’s deputy leader Sajith Premadasa. President Maithripala Sirisena who leads the SLFP-remnant is likely to support Mr. Rajapaksa, according to political sources.

Making the announcement at Sugathadasa stadium that was packed with Rajapaksa supporters, the former President said: “I am not the one choosing him. You have already chosen him. The country has asked for him.” Mr. Rajapaksa, who held office for a decade from 2005, cannot run for Presidency due to a 2015 legislation that places a two-term limit. However, in a recent media interview, he has said he would be the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the general elections scheduled next year.

Mr. Gotabaya, 70, rose to prominence during Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, when he was appointed defence secretary. While supporters hail him as a “hero”, for his crucial role in ending the war that the armed forces fought with the rebel Tigers critics and victims, especially among the Tamil minority, accuse him of committing war crimes and fiercely oppose him. He is linked to Sri Lanka’s infamous “white-van abductions” targeting dissidents. In the post-war years, he was accused of backing reactionary Sinhala Buddhist groups notorious for inciting violence against minority Muslims. Even as he faces trial for financial fraud and murder, Mr.

Gotabaya has denied all allegations and maintained that they are politically motivated falsehoods.

Addressing supporters on Sunday, Mr. Gotabaya recalled the praise he received from a senior military colleague who called him ‘an officer who takes initiative over and above the normal call of duty’. “It was that quality that helped me end 30 years of terrorism, in just three and a half years,” he said. Further he vowed he “will never allow extremist terrorism” in the country and pledged to enhance national security, apparently referring to fears that gripped the country after the Easter terror attacks in April. He would safeguard the country’s sovereignty and protect it from “external forces’ interference,” he said.

One of the early reactions from the Rajapaksas’ political rivals came from Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera Sunday evening. “The barbarians are at the gate!” he tweeted, adding: “The symbol of white van terror of the Rajapakse era, the ‘ugly American’, has today launched his campaign for the presidency. Do #SriLankans want to return to the isolation and darkness of the past? #lka

Meanwhile, Mr. Gotabaya’s candidacy is also being challenged by sections that have questions about his citizenship. A dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the United States, Mr. Gotabaya has said that he has renounced his American citizenship, as Sri Lankan law prohibits dual citizens form contesting for the highest office.

However, the State-run Sunday Observer on Sunday reported that a couple of police complaints made by civil society activists on alleged irregularities in his Sri Lankan citizenship, passports and electoral registration could potentially pose a threat to his candidacy.

Police counter stone-pelting with teargas shells

Police crackdown: Teargas shells being fired towards protesters in Wan Chai district of Hong Kong on Sunday.AFPVIVEK PRAKASH

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters hit the streets of for a tenth weekend in-a-row on Sunday, defying police who fired volleys of tear gas at several locations.

The protests followed a night of “hit-and-run” rallies across the city and came after Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam insisted she would not meet the demands of demonstrators.

Early Sunday afternoon, thousands of protesters met in the city's Victoria Park, braving hot and humid conditions and a police ban on the gathering.

“The police should try their best to maintain public security instead of rejecting our request to march,” said a 25-year-old protester who gave only her family name, Wong.

“We’re still here... We won't worry that much about illegal assembly. We still have our rights,” she told AFP.

Police also denied the protesters a permit for a second rally in the city's working class Sham Shui Po neighbourhood.

But the pro-democracy activists, whose protests are now in their third month, defied authorities in both locations, and staged additional protests in several other parts of the city.

Persistent protests

Sunday’s protests come after a night of cat-and-mouse demonstrations around the city, with protesters taking their mantra of flexible action – “Be Water” – to new heights. And while riot police fired tear gas and arrested 16 people, the two sides avoided the lengthy pitched battles that have been seen in recent weeks.

“Our aim is no injuries, no bleeding and not getting arrested,” said a 17-year-old student protester who gave his family name as Chan.

“I think our previous tactics of staying in one place led to many arrests and injuries... We need to 'be water' to avoid injuries,” he told AFP at the Victoria Park gathering on Sunday.

The demonstrations that began more than two months ago in opposition to a contentious bill allowing extraditions to mainland China have morphed into a broader bid to reverse a slide in democratic freedoms in the city.

Saturday launch is DPRK’s fifth test in two weeks

In this television grab, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) watching the test-firing of a weapon system.AP/KRT

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a “new weapon” test, the state media reported on Sunday, the latest in a series of launches that U.S. President Donald Trump has played down as Washington seeks to restart nuclear talks with Pyongyang.

The report carried by the Korean Central News Agency followed Mr. Trump's comments that Mr. Kim had expressed a willingness to meet once the U.S.-South Korean exercises are over and apologised for the slew of missile tests.

Saturday's launch was the North’s fifth test in two weeks as it protests the annual military drills underway between Seoul and Washington.

Defence officials in Seoul said Pyongyang fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Saturday, flying 400 km before splashing down in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

KCNA, without any specifications, said on Sunday it was a “new weapon” developed to suit the country's “terrain condition”.

Around 40 people died in the flare-up

Firefighters extinguishing a blaze following clashes in Mansoura, Aden on Sunday.

A Saudi-led coalition on Sunday launched a strike against Yemen’s southern separatists after they seized the presidential palace in second city Aden in deadly fighting that threatened to push the war-ravaged nation deeper into turmoil.

The seizure, decried by the Riyadh-backed Yemeni government as a UAE-supported coup, reflects deep divisions between secessionists and loyalist forces, both of whom have fought Shiite Huthi rebels.

“The coalition targeted an area that poses a direct threat to one of the important sites of the legitimate government,” a statement said, calling on the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) to withdraw from positions seized in Aden or face further attacks.

It did not specify the target but residents in Aden told AFP it was an air strike against separatist camps in the city.

Since the fighting flared on Thursday, around 40 people have been killed and 260 others including civilians wounded, according to the UN.

“It is heart-breaking that during Eid-al-Adha, families are mourning the death of their loved ones instead of celebrating together in peace and harmony,” said Lise Grande, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.

Riyadh-based Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi is backed by the coalition – led by Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates – that is battling the Iran-aligned Huthis.

But another force in the anti-Huthi coalition – the UAE-trained Security Belt Force – has since Wednesday been battling loyalists in Aden, the temporary base of Hadi's government.

Id–ul–Azha is the commemoration of sacrifice by Prophet Hazrath Ibrahim celebrated the world over by the Muslims annually on the 10th of the Islamic month of Zilhaj.

One night Hazrath Ibrahim (Alaihissalam or peace be upon him) saw in a vision that he was sacrificing his then only son Ismail (pbuh). It was a dream and in reality it was an order from the Omnipotent Allah which demanded sacrifice both from the father and the son. Hazrath Ibrahim consulted his son Hazrath Ismail, also a Prophet, who in turn readily consented. The rising sun of the 10th of Zilhaj saw the scene of a father preparing to sacrifice his son in implicit obedience to his Maker. Hazrath Ibrahim (pbuh) walked towards the hill of Marwa along with Ismail (pbuh). Ibrahim (pbuh) put his arm around Ismail (pbuh) and hugged him with tear-streaked face. He laid him down, blind-folded himself and got ready to perform the sacrifice.

Disappointment flooded through Ibrahim (pbuh) as the thoughts finally took shape. Surprise was in store for Ibrahim (pbuh) when he saw his son Ismail (pbuh) standing, his eyes sparkling with vitality and a smile on his tranquil face. Hazrath Ibrahim (pbuh) construed that his sacrifice had been rejected. Thereupon Allah said: “We called out to him “O Abraham!. Thou hast already fulfilled vision! — thus indeed Do we reward those who do right. For this was obviously a trial — And we ransomed him with a Great Sacrifice. And we left (This blessing) for him among generations (To come) in later times” (The Holy Qur’an: XXXVII–104 to 108). Allah requires our will and devotion (22:37) and sacrificing the goat is one of the rites of the Haj to be performed by every Muslim who can afford it.

Mir Mazher Hussain, Chennai

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