October 18, 2019
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    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected a US call for an immediate ceasefire in northern Syria. Mr Erdogan's comments come ahead of a visit to Turkey by the US vice-president and secretary of state.Turkey launched an offensive targeting Syrian Kurdish fighters last week after US troops allied to them pulled out.Russia, which backs Syria's government, has meanwhile said it is trying to prevent clashes between the Turkish and Syrian armies in the region.After four days of fighting, the Kurds agreed a deal with the Syrian government for the Syrian army to be deployed along the border to help repel the Turkish assault.Turkey considers the Kurdish militia that leads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance a terrorist organisation and wants to push it away from the frontier.Ankara also says it wants to create a "safe zone" reaching about 30km (20 miles) into Syria, where up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey could be resettled.
    Critics of the Trump administration say the withdrawal of US troops from the region gave Turkey a "green light" for the offensive.The US has repeatedly denied this, and on Monday Washington announced sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior government officials.Dozens of civilians have reportedly been killed in the operation so far and at least 160,000 have fled the area, according to the UN.On Tuesday, the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said it had "taken the difficult decision to suspend the majority of its activities and evacuate all its international staff from north-east Syria".
    What did President Erdogan say?"They say 'declare a ceasefire'. We will never declare a ceasefire," Mr Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday."They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions," the president added.
    President Vladimir Putin has discussed the situation with Mr Erdogan in a phone call and invited him to Russia for a working visit "in the coming days", the Kremlin announced on Wednesday.Mr Erdogan is also expected to meet US Vice-President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Thursday.
    UK government Turkish halts arms exportsMr Pence on Monday warned that the US sanctions against Turkey would worsen "unless and until Turkey embraces an immediate ceasefire" and negotiates a long-term settlement on the border.US President Donald Trump has faced mounting pressure to take action against Turkey - a key Nato partner - including from Republicans usually loyal to his administration.Syrian government forces on Tuesday entered the strategic town of Manbij, inside the area where Turkey wants to create its "safe zone".Meanwhile, Turkish troops and pro-Turkish, anti-government fighters had also been gathering near Manbij.Over the past two years, hundreds of US troops have visibly patrolled the strategic town, but they left earlier this week.On Tuesday, Russia - a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - said its forces were patrolling along the "line of contact" between Syrian and Turkish forces.
    Moscow describes the Turkish offensive as "unacceptable". On Tuesday, President Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed the issue in a phone call.For now, Syrian forces have not been deployed between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, where Turkey has focused its efforts.Kurdish-led forces have been a key ally of the US in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.They described the US withdrawal, which preceded Turkish action, as a "stab in the back".There are fears the destabilisation could lead to a resurgence of so-called Islamic State (IS), as thousands of former fighters and their relatives are being detained in northern Syria.Hundreds of IS family members are said to have already escaped from one camp.

    Viewpoint: Syria could be beginning of end for Trump
    President Donald Trump's policies on Syria are a disaster largely of his own making - one that could cost him re-election in 2020, says former US Assistant Secretary of State PJ Crowley.
    There will not be an article of impeachment that includes Donald Trump's latest decisions regarding Syria among his alleged high crimes and misdemeanours. But the strategic disaster unfolding following his capitulation to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could well mark the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.Trump will survive impeachment - the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to convict him - although he continues to be his own worst enemy. The president believes the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "perfect." The transcript the White House released presents strong evidence a crime was committed.
    But Ukraine has already become a domestic political Rorschach test - there was a quid pro quo but many Trump supporters still choose to see a benign image.Syria is different. It's not something he can blame on Barack Obama or House Democrats. Notwithstanding the administration's intent to punish Turkey with fresh sanctions, this is a crisis largely of Trump's making.To Trump, his decision to withdraw US forces from the contested areas along the border between Syria and Turkey is consistent with his electoral mandate, extracting US forces from complex and costly Middle East conflicts.As he tweeted, "it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars," adding with capitalised emphasis, "WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN."While it's tempting to ignore his many erratic and contradictory statements and tweets, in this case, Erdogan read Trump like a book, and played him like a fiddle.
    Trump's pullback of US troops reshapes Syrian war
    When Erdogan told Trump in a recent phone conversation that he planned to send forces into Syria to eliminate the possibility of an autonomous Kurdish region along Turkey's border, it's likely he anticipated that Trump would offer minimal resistance.After all, in another conversation in late 2018, Trump signalled his strong desire to withdraw US forces from Syria, reportedly telling Erdogan, "OK, it's all yours. We are done." Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned as a result, one of the last national security "adults in the room" willing to contain Trump's impulses.
    While Trump's policy has elicited bipartisan criticism, even from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, many Americans are weary of Middle East wars and support bringing the troops home.But Trump did it in just about the worst possible way.The relatively small US contingent, together with British and French counterparts, were there to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State and act as a buffer pending a diplomatic process to chart how Syria would be reconstructed and governed going forward.Despite his business background, Trump ceded whatever leverage the United States might have had to shape a new and improved Syria to Russia, Iran, the Assad regime and even the Islamic State.Syrian and Russian forces have moved into the vacuum created by the American withdrawal. An unknown number of Islamic State fighters escaped Kurdish custody in the mayhem following the Turkish incursion. How Trump's get-out-of-the-way strategy fits into his maximum pressure campaign against Iran is anyone's guess.
    "Why do we need to be the policemen of the world?"For many of Donald Trump's supporters attending his rally in central Minneapolis, their opinion on Turkey's assault on Syria - coming after US troops were pulled out of the city - was the same."I think it's great we've stopped involving our troops in their problems in Turkey and Syria," said 24-year-old Alex Ledezma. "We're not their babysitters."Melissa Erra, 52, said: "What's going on there has been going on for hundreds of years. How many of our people have to die over there, for something that's not our cause? It's going to continue whether we are there or not."But Marine Corps veteran Eric Radziej had a different take."I thought it was a mistake to pull out of Afghanistan so quickly. But if it goes bad, we've never said we wouldn't go back. In Afghanistan, we waited too long to go back."He added: "There are other partners that could go in. We can't carry the weight of the world all of the time."Even more significantly, the credibility and reliability of the United States as an ally is now an open question, in the Middle East and beyond.Trump dismissed the importance of the battle-tested relationship that had developed between American forces and the Kurds during the campaign against the Islamic State caliphate. The Kurds were the vanguard of the forces on the ground that retook Raqqa and other ISIS strongholds.
    Some Kurds fought on the allied side during World War Two, but there was no recognised Kurdish state then, or now for that matter.Germany and Japan, both staunch American allies now, were adversaries back then. Others - think South Korea and Israel - were occupied or not yet independent states.Japan and South Korea are already nervous that Trump's pursuit of a deal with North Korea will fail to address their legitimate security and human rights concerns. Trump's cavalier attitude towards the Kurds will only exacerbate those concerns.None of this is reassuring to a majority of countries who are today Nato allies, or any country in the Middle East that relies on the United States for its security. They don't pass Trump's D-Day test either.Saudi Arabia was already sufficiently unnerved about Trump's flip-flop regarding Iran - ordering a military strike in response to the downing of an American drone only to abruptly call it off - that it is reportedly exploring a back channel dialogue with Tehran. Rather than isolating Iran, Trump is precipitating a regional accommodation.
    Iraq Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi says diplomacy can still avert war
    But that poses a problem in Jerusalem.Syria brings Iran right to Israel's doorstep. The more Israel feels it is left to confront Iran alone, the greater the risk of a direct military confrontation that would inevitably draw in the United States. This is precisely the destructive dynamic Obama and his European counterparts thought they had ameliorated with the nuclear deal that Trump scuttled.America's network of global alliances is fundamental to its national security and international stability. And Trump is actively undermining it. The evidence is mounting and in plain sight.While he has made no secret of his scepticism regarding America's leadership responsibilities, Syria underscores how badly Trump is doing at his primary job, advancing the national interests of the United States, and in the process those of its key allies.
    There are real costs to his preference to withdraw the United States behind his fantastical wall and let the world fend for itself.The good news is that is not a state of affairs that most Americans support. In a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll, a decisive majority of respondents favoured a more active US role in the world, supported its regional alliances and saw value in international trade.This is a telling rejection of the main pillars of Trump's foreign policy. Syria, along with his continued blind spot regarding Russia, demonstrates that he is also mismanaging international relations. He has lost sight of the national interest in pursuit of his own political interests.Taken together, they should cost Trump re-election. The bad news is American voters will have to wait until next November to choose a different president, and a different foreign policy.PJ Crowley is a former US Assistant Secretary of State and and author of Red Line: American Foreign Policy in a Time of Fractured Politics and Failing States
    Turkey-Syria offensive: Turks embrace nationalist mood
    The Turkish players' military salute was greeted by fans copying their actions at the Stade de France on Monday night
    They had been warned not to make political gestures, but they have now done it twice. Turkey's national football team stood on the pitch in their red and white strip and gave a military salute to the stands in celebration of their goals. First against Albania on Friday and then again against France on Monday night.The salute was immediately adopted by supporters frantically waving Turkish flags in the Stade de France on Monday night.Their action was in tribute to Turkey's military operation in Northern Syria and "a symbol of defiance" amid international condemnation of Turkey's operation.
    Uefa probes Turkish footballers' military salute Football in Turkey has always been instrumental in galvanising national sentiment when played in international leagues but even more so when fuelled by anti-Western feeling.The spirit of "conquest" soon followed on social media."Get to know us, France. While you condemn us, we give you a military salute in your own land. Long live Turkey, we are making history," proclaimed one Twitter user, while many others added the hashtag "#ConquestofEurope" (AvrupaninFethi).Another declared: "A quick reminder to Western media and Uefa who consider a military salute as a political or a racist message: This is not a political message but a way of expressing respect for the soldiers of this Republic which has been built over its soldiers' blood."Why Turks are backing their army The mood in Turkey's border town of Akcakale is no different. "We are ready to go to the frontline and fight," flag-waving residents told BBC Turkish. "We are waiting for our President Erdogan's order."Turkey have been fighting the Kurdish militant PKK in Turkey for over three decades and those backing Turkey's military intervention in northern Syria see this move as an extended fight.
    Most Turks see the operation in northern Syria as an extension of the campaign against Kurdish militants in TurkeyThe manifestation of support for Turkey's military reflects the general nationalist mood in Turkey and is heard much louder than criticism.Mainly because those who dare to disagree with the national discourse of the military operation face criminal charges.Media captionThe BBC's Martin Patience explains what's behind the conflictLegal action has been taken against nearly 80 social media users who criticised the operation. They are accused of "inciting hatred and engaging in terror propaganda".Many Twitter accounts belonging to Kurdish activists and journalists are blocked in Turkey.
    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's main instrument in driving his power to shape public opinion has largely been through the media, which he is accused of using as a propaganda machine.Mainstream media outlets are largely owned by Mr Erdogan's associate conglomerates.And there is little surprise that opposition voices are also muted in the mainstream media, which now stand largely as a pro-government mouthpiece.Well-known Turkish TV presenters flocked to the border in military gear narrating the intervention in a heroic and lyric mood.A strong nationalist narrative is also embraced by the press. They hardly give space to criticism, and when they do they tend to criticise it.British Labour Party MP David Lammy was not spared.Mr Lammy criticised the Turkish operation with footage of a dead child: "The human face of Trump decision to give Turkey a free pass to attack Kurdish allies in north-eastern Syria. Heartbreaking."Pro-government CNNTurk channel accused him of spreading "black propaganda" about Turkey's military intervention, tweeting the piece with a darkened image of the MP that many believed was a racial reference.
    Turkey's official line in this operation is to clear the border of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are largely made of Syrian Kurdish fighters, along with Arab and Christian fighters.Kurds in Turkey make up to around 20% of the country's population. Their voice is nowhere to be heard either.Residents of the Kurdish-dominated town of Diyarbakir have mainly chosen to remain silent in fear of legal action against them.That goes for a spice shop owner in Diyarbakir's busiest bazaar who told BBC Turkish: "Everybody is aggrieved, but we repress our feelings. When you have too many police in plainclothes around, nobody would talk to you."The political parties are largely following the ruling AK party's government line: the secular CHP, nationalist Good Party and the nationalist MHP all back the military operation.There is just one exception in the opposition: the pro-Kurdish HDP party. Their leadership is behind bars, and their members face legal charges, intimidation and constant online abuse.Pockets of HDP members trying to hold rallies against the military intervention in the south-eastern part of Turkey have either been detained or forced to leave by the police.Police raided several municipalities in the mostly Kurdish-populated towns of Hakkari, Mardin and Van on Tuesday, detaining a number of Kurdish administrators, including co-mayors.With voices opposing the military operation muted and intimidated, nationalist sentiment is all that remains, mainly driven by pro-government media.

     

     

     

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    The Election Commission says that 673 complaints pertaining to the forthcoming Presidential Election have been received so far.The complaints have been received during the period from October 08 to yesterday (15). These include 650 complaints pertaining to violations of election laws, 06 complaints regarding incidents of election-related violence and 17 other complaints. The commission says 85 complaints have been reported within the 24 hours ending from 4.30 p.m. yesterday. All of these are regarding election law violations, the Elections Commission said.

     

    Politics of history

    October 16, 2019

    An orator addressing a big political meeting in the North Central Province invites a journey to an atavistic glory, invoking names of several kings as well as notional imagery from the animal world.

    “Coming from these historical lands you are proud inheritors of a glorious heritage. There are threats from outside forces. Lions do not act like jackals…”

    History can be both a discipline for academic study as well as the wellspring of social and cultural consciousness. In the former approach, the method is dispassionate, objective; emotion nor speculation has a role in the search for the truth. On the other hand, when taken as a basis for historical identity, the very opposite comes to the fore, mythology prevails, emotion predominates, facts become secondary to the fluency of the narrative.

    When interpreting history, we often generalize from the particular. We see a monument and from that fact, begin to postulate on the nature of the society that created it. The Moguls built the Taj Mahal, only an era of enlightenment and heightened sensitivities could have left such an invaluable gift. Men then had much knowledge, were proud and able, well-fed and well-shod. Art cannot flourish without leisure and freedom. Therefore, people then would have enjoyed leisure and freedom, the monument proves it.

    Even as the breathtaking the beauty of the Taj Mahal remains uncontroverted, are such inferences on that society as a whole, a true representation of 17 century India?

    The Moguls, invading the Indian plains from the North-West, over the mountains, found easy pickings in a weak and divided land. Poverty held the Sub-Continent in thrall, for centuries its inhabitants had eked out a bare existence, turning for solace to the divine, a communion demanding complex and long-winded rituals and practices. Like the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the King was the country; all subjects of the kingdom belonged to him, all wealth accrued to him (in Egypt, when a Pharaoh died, it was common for his servants to be entombed alive with the dead ruler, to serve him in the afterlife). To the prevailing feudal system, there were no true dissenters, no intellectual challenges, no suggestion of a workable alternative; a stagnant society which only an external impulse could change.

    Archaeological evidence

    A foreign invader, of dissimilar habits and alien faith, constructs a gigantic mausoleum for his favourite wife, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child. From that monument, we attempt to read the temper and beat of an era, besides deciphering the lives of the millions who constituted the Moghul empire. Later studies reveal that 20,000 artisans toiled on the project, the building incorporated and expanded Timurid, Persian and Mughal design traditions, the construction was overseen by the Emperors’ architects.

    Long before the Taj Mahal, our ancestors built on this island a flourishing civilization of which there is ample archaeological evidence. We do not have extensive records of the lives of the average person of those times, all attention was on the King. What did the ordinary man eat, how long was his life expectancy, what were his leisure activities, what was his view of the world? However, given the relative safety an island enjoys from outside pressures, and the obvious development of agriculture, we may assume an adequate, if not contended existence.

    Today’s politician (addressing the meeting in the North Central), sees a proud people, lion-like, conscious of their strength, aware of the world outside.

    Certainly, people now are conscious of the fact that we inhabit a much smaller world from that of our ancestors, whose concept of the outside was limited mainly to what is now India. Today, we have real-time knowledge of happenings world-wide, not only mere information, but these distant lands also offer possibilities unthinkable in this country. For many, the reality is; for a better life, good quality education or even refuge when their rights are abused, a foreign country, particularly in the West, dazzles.

    Since all roads lead to the Katunayake airport, the foreign embassies, alarmed at the endless line, put up their barriers, determined to subject the hopeful applicant to a process of virtual stripping; verbal assurances are dismissed out of hand; have you enough money to travel, where is your spouse, can you provide a compelling reason to return? The list of documents demanded is endless, humiliating. It seems the king of the jungle cannot travel only on his leonine reputation.

    Proactive, service-oriented

    Aruni, who I met through a common acquaintance, had worked overseas for many years. Now living a leisurely life of retirement, she had been with a Middle-Eastern Airline as a ground hostess, based there in the hub of the burgeoning airline.

    “When I first went to Dubai, it wasn’t the grand metropolis it is now. Oil money was coming in, but most of today's’ developments were still at the drawing board stage. The Dubai government was committed to having an internationally respected airline as a vital part of their larger scheme of development. They were serious. Almost all the top management were expatriates, mainly European. Everything was run on a professional basis.”

    “My job was to look after our passengers while in the airport terminal. Sometimes, a passenger may miss a connecting flight. We do not just shrug it off, we help them to make a booking in the next available flight. If there is a long transit, we may even suggest a city tour or a nearby hotel until it’s time for the connection. We had to always be proactive, service-oriented”.

    I inquired about the Sri Lankans who came there as housemaids and drivers.

    “Those days, on the ‘corniche’, the waterfront promenade in Dubai, like our Galle-Face Green, you see them in droves, chattering loudly. Many of them were very raw, the agencies just sent our females to work there without any heed to training. One woman had put the leftover food in a microwave thinking it was a refrigerator. These unsophisticated maids got into a lot of trouble with their employers due to ignorance. We heard many horror stories about these things.”

    “One maid told me that no sooner she finished arranging the house, the employers’ children would disarrange it deliberately. When she complained to the lady of the house she replied that the maid was paid to clean the house and therefore should not complain”.

    Various notions of history, flattering as they may be, will not put bread on our table. Times have moved on, ideas and methods that prevailed hundreds of years ago will not score in a vastly different world. We will rue the day we let politicians entice us with flattery instead of rationality, discard effective governance for mumbo jumbo.

     

    The possibility for afternoon thundershowers is high over most parts of the island. Showers or thundershowers will occur over most parts of the island particularly after 2.00 p.m. Showers will occur in Eastern and Southern provinces during the morning too. Fairly heavy falls about 75-100 mm can be expected at some places in Central, Sabaragamuwa, North-western and Northern provinces and in Anuradhapura district. Misty conditions can be expected at some places in Sabaragamuwa, Central, Uva and North-central provinces during the morning. General public is kindly requested to take adequate precautions to minimize damages caused by temporary localized strong winds and lightning during thundershowers.

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