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Sri Lanka PM offers resignation after protesters storm president’s house

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  • Thousands of protesters storm president’s house, office.
  • Prime minister says willing to step aside.
  • Protesters demand president’s resignation over crisis.

COLOMBO, July 9 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is willing to resign to make way for an all-party government, his office said in a statement on Saturday, after thousands of protesters stormed the president’s official residence in Colombo.

Soldiers and police were unable to hold back the crowd of chanting protesters demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, as public anger grows over the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.

Protesters also forced their way through heavy metal gates into the Finance Ministry and the president’s seafront offices.

Rajapaksa left the official residence on Friday as a safety precaution ahead of the planned weekend demonstration, two defence ministry sources said. Reuters could not immediately confirm the president’s whereabouts.

Wickremesinghe held talks with several political party leaders to decide what steps to take following the unrest.

“Wickremesinghe has told the party leaders that he is willing to resign as Prime Minister and make way for an all-party government to take over,” his office said in a statement.

Wickremesinghe had also been moved to a secure location, a government source told Reuters.

Leaders of several opposition parties have also called for Rajapaksa to resign.

Police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators near Presidents residence during a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa , amid the countrys economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 9, 2022. — Reuters
Police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators near President’s residence during a protest demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa , amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 9, 2022. — Reuters

“The president and the prime minister must resign immediately. If that does not happen political instability will worsen,” said Sri Lanka Freedom Party leader and former president Maithripala Sirisena, speaking before Wickremesinghe had offered his resignation.

Presidential pool

A Facebook live stream from inside the president’s house showed hundreds of protesters, some draped in the national flag, packing into rooms and corridors.

Video footage showed some of them splashing in the swimming pool, while others sat on a four-poster bed and sofas. Some could be seen emptying out a chest of drawers in images that were widely circulated on social media.

Hundreds milled about on the grounds of the colonial-era whitewashed residence, with no security personnel in sight.

At least 39 people, including two police officers, were injured and hospitalised during the protests, hospital sources told Reuters.

The Indian Ocean island of 22 million people is struggling under a severe foreign exchange shortage that has limited essential imports of fuel, food and medicine, plunging it into the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.

Soaring inflation, which reached a record 54.6% in June and is expected to hit 70% in the coming months, has heaped hardship on the population.

Political instability could undermine Sri Lanka’s talks with the International Monetary Fund as it seeks a $3 billion bailout, the restructuring of some foreign debt and fund-raising from multilateral and bilateral sources to ease the dollar drought. 

“This is a dicey situation. If a clear transition is not put in place the president and prime minister’s resignation will create a power vacuum that could be dangerous. The Speaker can appoint a new all-party government but whether they will be accepted by the protesters remains to be seen,” said political analyst Kusal Perera.

Economic crisis

The crisis comes after COVID-19 hammered the tourism-reliant economy and slashed remittances from overseas workers.

It has been compounded by the build-up of hefty government debt, rising oil prices and a ban on the import of chemical fertilisers last year that devastated agriculture. The fertiliser ban was reversed in November.

However, many blame the country’s decline on economic mismanagement by Rajapaksa and there have been months of largely peaceful protests demanding his resignation.

Before breaking into the government buildings on Saturday, the protesters dismantled several police barricades in Colombo’s government district.

Police fired shots in the air but were unable to stop the angry crowd from surrounding the presidential residence, the witness said.

A demonstrator celebrates after entering the Presidents House during a protest, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the countrys economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka July 9, 2022. — Reuters
A demonstrator celebrates after entering the President’s House during a protest, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka July 9, 2022. — Reuters

Despite a severe shortage of fuel that has stalled transport services, demonstrators packed into buses, trains and trucks from several parts of the country to reach Colombo for the weekend demonstration.

Discontent has worsened in recent weeks as the cash-strapped country stopped receiving fuel shipments, forcing school closures and rationing of petrol and diesel for essential services. 

Sampath Perera, a 37-year-old fisherman, took an overcrowded bus from the seaside town of Negombo 45 km (30 miles) north of Colombo, to join the protest.

“We have told Gota (Rajapaksa) over and over again to go home but he is still clinging on to power. We will not stop until he listens to us,” Perera said.

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government contests Imran Khan and Qureshi’s exoneration in the cipher case

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On Thursday, the federal government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court contesting the exoneration of former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the well-known cipher case.

Citing procedural and jurisdictional issues, the Ministry of Interior has appealed the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) ruling.

In hearing the cipher case, the High Court allegedly overreached its power, arguing that judges cannot change laws where Parliament has not expressly passed legislation.

Despite receiving government-funded legal representation, the petition emphasized Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s lack of cooperation during the trial, submitting 65 separate motions and neglecting to cross-examine witnesses.

The petition contended that in order for a retrial to satisfy legal standards, the High Court should have ignored important evidence that was given during the trial. It requests that the appeals contesting the IHC’s June 3 acquittal be given a hearing date by the Supreme Court.

Case history

The cipher issue concerns a supposed diplomatic document that disappeared from Imran Khan’s custody. The cipher allegedly contained threats from the US to remove Khan from office, according to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Shah Mehmood Qureshi and several aides, including Asad Umar, are named in the First Information Report (FIR) submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in accordance with Section 34 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Sections 5 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act.

The then-foreign secretary received a diplomatic cipher from Washington on March 7, 2022, according to the FIR. The lawsuit claims that by manipulating the data for their own benefit, Khan and Qureshi put the safety of the country at risk. It alleges that on March 28, 2022, Khan secretly met at his Bani Gala home and gave his Principal Secretary, Muhammad Azam Khan, instructions to change the content of the cipher to his advantage, jeopardizing national security.

The document asserts that Khan still has custody of the cipher, jeopardizing Pakistan’s encrypted messaging systems and possibly helping foreign forces, which would be detrimental to the nation. A complaint has been filed by the FIA’s Anti-Terrorism Wing against Khan, Qureshi, and other individuals for improper use of state secrets and unapproved possession of the cipher.

Acquittal by the Islamabad High Court

In the cipher case, on June 3, the IHC cleared Khan and Qureshi when Justice Aamir Farooq issued a succinct ruling in their favor. Their sentences were appealed in the case, which has since been a source of political and legal controversy, leading to their acquittal.

This acquittal and the ongoing legal and political struggles surrounding the cipher case are highlighted by the government’s subsequent move to contest it.

With potentially huge ramifications for the parties involved and the larger political scene, the Supreme Court’s decision over whether to hear the appeal will be keenly scrutinized.

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi urges political stability in order to accelerate economic expansion.

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Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the former prime minister, emphasized on Thursday how important political stability is to Pakistan’s economic development and how the nation cannot prosper without it.

His concern was that export growth had not progressed, and he emphasized that stability in the current climate is vital to draw investments and carry out the necessary reforms.

In his criticism of the tax system, Abbasi brought up the erratic nature of tax laws and the transient nature of the most recent tax slab implementation. Insisting that difficult choices are unavoidable for economic recovery, he emphasized the necessity of designing a tax system that is equitable and does not burden the people.

Furthermore, arguing that the effectiveness of organizations like the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is essential for economic governance and transparency, Abbasi urged for changes within these and other organizations.

Abbasi, in his discussion of more comprehensive fiscal plans, suggested that the National Finance Commission (NFC) award be reviewed again and that power distribution companies (DISCOs) be decentralized to the provinces.

In order to reduce inefficiencies and corruption at the provincial level, he recommended looking into ways to share the cost of defense spending and decentralize the management of energy resources.

In closing, Abbasi emphasized that Pakistan’s economic trajectory will stay stagnant unless comprehensive changes are implemented immediately. To move the nation towards sustainable progress, he urged policymakers to give stability and structural reforms first priority.

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Through in-app QR payments, Zindigi and SBP streamline transactions involving sacrificial animals.

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With its in-app QR code payment system based on Raast, Zindigi—powered by JS Bank—has elevated the convenience of cashless payments for the procurement of sacrificial animals to a whole new level for Eid ul Adha.

This program uses QR code payments to streamline transactions for sacrificed animals for the general public and traders. It is a component of the State Bank of Pakistan’s Raast quick payment service.

This feature enables users of Zindigi and users of any digital banking apps or wallets to safely and easily make payments at certain cattle markets throughout Pakistan using Zindigi QR. The consumer must scan the QR code of the livestock merchant and pay the transaction amount in order to complete the payment.

In order to further financial inclusion and digital innovation in Pakistan’s developing economy, Zindigi and the State Bank of Pakistan have partnered. Both organizations are committed to improving the efficiency and accessibility of financial services, especially on holidays such as Eid ul Adha, by utilizing the most recent developments in fintech.

One of the most important steps toward promoting financial inclusion and economic empowerment at the local level is the integration of livestock markets into the digital economy. Farmers and retailers may take charge of their financial operations and help realize the larger goal of an inclusive digital Pakistan by adopting digital payments.

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