13 young miners feared dead in India's remote northeast
Rescuers work at the site of a coal mine that
collapsed in Ksan, in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, Friday,
Dec. 14. (AP Photo/Sannio Siangshai)
Gauhati, India (AP) — Thirteen
young miners were missing and feared dead following the collapse of a shaft
and flooding of a coal mine they were digging illegally in India's remote
northeast, police said Friday.
Rescuers were attempting to pump water
out of the mine, which flooded Wednesday, police said. National Disaster
Response Force workers joined local authorities in the rescue effort.
Police said rescuers can only reach the
miners after the water is removed from the mine.
Those missing are believed to be
teenage boys used by illegal mining groups to enter "rat hole'" mines with
They said digging at the mine was
banned four years ago, but illegal and unsafe activity by private landowners
and the local community is rife. The area in Meghalaya state is about 130
kilometers (80 miles) north of Shillong, the state capital.
"It was absolutely an illegal mining
activity," said Conrad Sangma, the state's top elected official. He said
authorities would crack down on illegal mining groups.
Last month, an activist, Agnes
Kharshiing, was assaulted by people involved in illegal mining when she
visited the area to protest their activities. She remains hospitalized with
life-threatening head and other injuries.
Demand for coal has increased in
Migrants from poorer parts of the
country come to work illegally in the coal mine area, where they earn enough
money to pay off powerful people who make sure the mines' guards don't
interfere. People carrying baskets filled with stolen coal on carts or
bicycles are a common sight in these areas.
In 2016, six illegal miners died when a
section of a closed mine collapsed in Burdwan district in India's West
Bengal state. The accident occurred when about 200 illegal miners were
extracting coal from the mine.
Macron urges calm, Paris police prepare for more violence
patrol by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Friday, Dec.14, 2018. Anticipating a
fifth straight weekend of violent protests, Paris' police chief said Friday
that armored vehicles and thousands of officers will be deployed again in
the French capital this weekend. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Paris (AP) — French President
Emanuel Macron called Friday for calm as authorities prepared to deploy
armored vehicles and thousands of security forces for a possible
fifth-straight weekend of violent protests on the streets of Paris.
The "yellow vest" movement, which began
its demonstrations Nov. 17 initially to protest an increase in fuel taxes,
soon morphed into an expression of rage about the high cost of living in
France and a sense that Macron's government is detached from the everyday
struggles of workers.
"Our country needs calm. It needs
order. It needs to function normally again," Macron said in Brussels, where
he attended a European Union summit.
Later, he traveled to Strasbourg to
express his condolences in the eastern French city where a gunman killed
four people and wounded a dozen more after opening fire Tuesday near a
Christmas market. The suspected attacker was killed Thursday in a shootout
with police. Macron thanked some of the hundreds of security forces that had
helped in the Strasbourg manhunt.
Macron acknowledged in a speech earlier
this week that he's partially responsible for the anger displayed by the
"yellow vest" protesters — whose movement takes its name from the safety
garb that all French motorists must carry. He has announced measures aimed
at improving workers' spending power. But he has so far refused to reinstate
a wealth tax that was lifted to spur investment in France.
"I don't think our democracy can accept
to function with a dialogue that is carried out only with the occupation of
the public domain, only by elements of violence," Macron said.
He insisted he had heard the
protesters' concerns and defended his promises to speed up tax relief. He
has ignored calls for his resignation, which is now among the protesters'
Paris Police Chief Michel Delpuech told
RTL radio that security services intend to deploy about 8,000 officers and
14 armored vehicles in the capital, the same numbers as last weekend. Since
the start of the protests, six people have died in protest-related incidents
and 1,407 people have been injured, 46 of them seriously, according to
For the second straight weekend,
several weekend French league soccer matches were postponed at the request
Some trade unions are now calling for
rolling strikes across the country.
"The best action is to go on strike,"
said Philippe Martinez, the head of leftist trade union CGT. "There are
inequalities in this country and we need to make big company bosses pay."
Delpuech said more groups of officers
will be deployed this weekend to deter vandals, who last weekend roamed the
elegant Champs-Elysees area, smashing store windows and looting stores. On
Friday, shops were boarding up their store windows ahead of the protests and
many planned to close.
"Last week, we pretty much handled the
'yellow vests,' but we also witnessed scenes of breakage and looting by
criminals," Delpuech said. "Our goal will be to better control this aspect."
Police arrested more than 1,000 people
in Paris last weekend, and 135 people were injured, including 17 police
Amnesty International also urged
authorities to use restraint, describing the security forces' response to
the protests as "extremely heavy-handed."
"Police used rubber bullets, sting-ball
grenades and tear gas against largely peaceful protesters who did not
threaten public order and the organization has documented numerous instances
of excessive use of force by police," the group said in a statement.
"Whilst policing demonstrations is a
difficult task and some protesters have committed unlawful and violent acts,
it is essential that both French law and international human rights law is
respected," the statement quoted Rym Khadhraoui, Amnesty International's
West Europe researcher, as saying.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner
urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully, citing the Strasbourg attack and
the work of the security services that were mobilized in the manhunt for the
suspect, 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt, who was shot and killed by police.
"I can't stand the idea that today
people applaud police forces and that tomorrow some people will think it
makes sense to throw stones at us," Castaner said from Strasbourg.
One group of demonstrators has urged a
nonviolent protest on the Place de la Republique in Paris under the slogan
"Je Suis Strasbourg" ("I am Strasbourg") to show solidarity with the victims
of the attack. The slogan evokes the "Je Suis Charlie" motto used by
supporters of freedom of speech after a 2015 attack in which 12 people were
killed at the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
One 'nebulous' word sends sparks flying over Brexit talks
British Prime Minister Theresa May walks by the
Union Flag and EU flag as she departs a media conference at an EU summit in
Brussels, Friday, Dec. 14. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Brussels (AP) — As if the Brexit
negotiations aren't tense enough, a "nebulous" linguistic fog briefly spread
across the European Union summit on Friday.
One word sent sparks flying between two
of the biggest protagonists, British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU
Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
EU leaders have rebuffed May's request
to sweeten the divorce agreement and help her win over a hostile U.K.
Parliament, and Juncker complained to reporters Thursday about a political
climate which was sometimes "nebulous, imprecise."
Juncker thought little more of it —
until a clearly angry May confronted him at the summit table Friday.
The heated exchange was captured on
video with no sound, but lip-readers reported that May said: "What did you
call me? You called me nebulous." Juncker was seen shaking his head,
apparently replying: "No I didn't."
Talks have been on a knife's edge for
months for a divorce which both sides see as a defining moment in their
history, with possibly hundreds of billions at stake depending on the
outcome. So every word counts, however nebulous.
Juncker later explained that he was
talking about the overall debate in Britain, where it is often hard to tell
who is on which side, not referring to May personally.
May acknowledged Friday that she had a
"robust" exchange with Juncker, but added: "That is the sort of discussion
you are able to have when you've developed a working relationship and you
work well together."
"What came out of that was his clarity
that actually ... he had been talking about a general level of debate," she
Juncker was relieved. "I did not refer
to her," he said. "I didn't, by the way, know that this word does exist in
It was time to kiss and make up. "In
the course of the morning, after having checked what I said yesterday night,
she was kissing me," Juncker said.
Serbia talks up armed intervention as Kosovo OKs new army
Workers hang Serbian flags in the northern,
Serb-dominated part of ethnically divided town of Mitrovica, Kosovo, Friday,
Dec. 14. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Florent Bajrami and Llazar Semini
Pristina, Kosovo (AP) — Serbia
threatened a possible armed intervention in Kosovo after the Kosovo
parliament on Friday overwhelmingly approved the formation of an army.
Belgrade called the move a "direct threat to peace and stability" in the
Balkans and lashed out at the United States for supporting it.
While NATO's chief called the action by
Kosovo "ill-timed," the U.S. approved it as "Kosovo's sovereign right" as an
independent nation that unilaterally broke away from Serbia in 2008.
All 107 lawmakers present in the
120-seat Kosovo parliament voted in favor of passing three draft laws to
expand an existing 4,000 Kosovo Security Force and turn it into a regular,
lightly armed army. Ethnic Serb lawmakers boycotted the vote.
Serbia insists the new army violates a
U.N. resolution that ended Serbia's bloody crackdown on Kosovar separatists
in 1998-1999. It has warned bluntly that it may respond with an armed
intervention in its former province, with Prime Minister Ana Brnabic saying
that's "one of the options on the table."
On Friday, Nikola Selakovic, an adviser
to the Serbian president, said the country could send in armed forces or
declare Kosovo an occupied territory. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic
said Serbia will seek an urgent session of the U.N. Security Council over
The Security Council held closed
consultations late Friday on the format of a meeting, possibly on Monday or
Tuesday. Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks
were private, said Russia, a close ally of Serbia, wants an open meeting to
be addressed by Serbia's president while European nations want a closed
The decision will be made by Ivory
Coast's U.N. ambassador, the current council president, the diplomats said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
affirmed the U.N.'s desire to maintain the Kosovo Force as the body that
ensures the safety of Kosovo, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said late
He said "the secretary-general calls on
all parties concerned to exercise restraint and refrain from actions that
could raise tensions and cause a further setback in the European
Union-facilitated dialogue for the normalization of relations between
Belgrade and Pristina."
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic
visited Serbian troops near the border with Kosovo and later Vucic addressed
the nation, denouncing the United States for its apparent support of a
Kosovo army and praising allies Russia and China for their opposition to the
He said that Kosovo and its "sponsor" —
the U.S. — want to "quash" the Serbs, but that he won't allow it.
Vucic says Serbia has been "brought to
the edge" by Kosovo's decision and now has no choice but to "defend" itself.
It was one of the strongest anti-American outbursts by Vucic, a former
pro-Russian ultranationalist turned alleged pro-EU reformer.
Any Serbian armed intervention in
Kosovo would mean a direct confrontation with thousands of NATO-led
peacekeepers, including U.S. soldiers, who have been stationed in Kosovo
Russia denounced the move to form a
Kosovo army, saying the ethnic Albanian force must be "disbanded" by NATO in
Kosovo declared independence from
Serbia in 2008, a move not recognized by Belgrade or Russia. Tensions have
remained high between the two sides, and NATO and the European Union — which
has led yearslong talks to improve ties between the Balkan neighbors —
expressed regret that Kosovo decided to go ahead with the army formation.
"I reiterate my call on both Pristina
and Belgrade to remain calm and refrain from any statements or actions which
may lead to escalation," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
He said the alliance remains committed
"to a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and to stability in the wider
Western Balkans." He said they will "re-examine the level of NATO's
engagement with the Kosovo Security Force."
The new army will preserve its current
name — Kosovo Security Force — but now has a new mandate. In about a decade
the army expects to have 5,000 troops and 3,000 reservists, and a 98
million-euro ($111 million) annual budget. It will handle crisis response
and civil protection operations — essentially what the current paramilitary
force, which is lightly armed, does. Its main tasks would be search and
rescue, explosive ordnance disposal, firefighting and hazardous material
It's not immediately clear how much
more equipment or weapons the new army will have or need compared with the
Seeking to reassure Serbia and the
international community, Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said the
new army "will never be used against them (Serbs)."
He added: "Serbia's army will now have
a partner — Kosovo's army — in the partnership for peace process."
Serbia fears the move's main purpose is
to chase the Serb minority out of Kosovo's Serbian-dominated north, a claim
strongly denied by the government in Pristina.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said that
the new army will be "multiethnic, professional and will serve all citizens,
peace in Kosovo, the region and wherever in the world, when asked."
He called on a return to dialogue for
normalizing ties with Serbia.
The United States hailed Kosovo's
parliament vote to form a new army as a first step and reaffirmed "its
support for the gradual transition ... to a force with a territorial defense
mandate, as is Kosovo's sovereign right."
A U.S. embassy statement in Pristina
urged Kosovo to continue "close coordination with NATO allies and partners
and to engage in outreach to minority communities."
"Regional stability requires that
Kosovo make genuine efforts to normalize relations with its neighbor Serbia,
and we encourage both sides to take immediate steps to lower tensions and
create conditions for rapid progress on the dialogue," it said.
In a sign of defiance, Serbs in
northern Kosovo displayed Serbian flags on their streets and balconies.
NATO-led peacekeepers deployed on a bridge in the ethnically divided
northern town of Mitrovica to keep the peace.
Kosovo's 1998-1999 war ended with a
78-day NATO air campaign in June 1999 that stopped a bloody Serbian
crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.
Spanish prosecutors file tax evasion charges against Shakira
In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, Shakira
performs at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Madrid (AP) — Spanish prosecutors have charged pop music star Shakira
with tax evasion, alleging she failed to pay more than 14.5 million euros
between 2012 and 2014. The Colombian singer denied the charges.
The charges published Friday allege
that Shakira listed the Bahamas as her official residence for tax purposes
during those years but was in fact living in Spain with her partner, Spanish
soccer player Gerard Pique.
Tax rates are much lower in the Bahamas
than in Spain.
Shakira said in a statement Friday
through her representatives that she was not a legal resident in Spain
during the years in question and owed nothing to the Spanish tax
authorities, who are using her "as a scapegoat" to frighten other taxpayers
into coming clean.
Prosecutors in Barcelona said Shakira's
travel abroad was for short periods because of professional commitments,
while most of the year she stayed in Spain. They want her to pay tax in
Spain on her worldwide income.
Shakira officially moved to Spain for
tax purposes in 2015, after having two children by Pique.
A magistrate will assess whether there
is enough evidence to put Shakira on trial.
Prosecutors want Shakira to pay a bond
of 19.4 million euros — the amount they say she owes in tax, plus 33
percent, in accordance with Spanish law. Otherwise, they recommend a court
freeze of her assets to that amount.
Shakira was named in the "Paradise
Papers" leaks that detailed the offshore tax arrangements of numerous
high-profile individuals, including musical celebrities like Madonna and
The documents were obtained by German
daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and investigated by Spanish news website El
Spain's tax authorities referred their
probe to the Barcelona prosecutor's office a year ago.
Sports celebrities have also been in
trouble with Spanish tax authorities, including soccer stars Lionel Messi
and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ukraine urges NATO to deploy ships amid standoff with Russia
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to
soldiers during a visit to a military base in Chernihiv region, Ukraine,
Wednesday, Nov, 28. (Mykola Lazarenko, Presidential Press Service via AP)
Kiev, Ukraine (AP) — The
Ukrainian president has urged NATO to deploy naval ships to the Sea of Azov
amid a standoff with Russia.
President Petro Poroshenko made the
call in an interview with the German daily Bild published Thursday,
saying that "Germany is one of our closest allies and we hope that states
within NATO are now ready to relocate naval ships to the Sea of Azov in
order to assist Ukraine and provide security."
In Sunday's confrontation, the Russian
coast guard fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels and their crews that
sought to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch
Strait, between Russia's mainland and the Crimean Peninsula it annexed from
Ukraine in 2014.
There was no immediate reaction from
German or NATO officials to Poroshenko's request. While NATO condemned the
Russian action, the allies will be unlikely to heed Poroshenko's request,
which could trigger a confrontation with Russia. A 2003 treaty between
Russia and Ukraine stipulates that agreement from each of the two littoral
countries is required for warships from any other country to enter the
Ukraine insisted that its vessels were
operating in line with international maritime rules, while Russia said they
had failed to get permission to pass.
Ukraine has released what it said was
the exact location where its ships were fired on by Russia, saying they were
in international waters west of the Kerch Strait. Russia, meanwhile,
insisted the Ukrainian vessels were in its territorial waters and refused to
communicate with the Russian coast guard, or accept a Russian pilot to guide
them through the narrow strait.
"What were the border guards supposed
to do?" Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday. "They fulfilled
their duty to protect the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.
If they had done something differently, they should have been put on trial
Poroshenko responded by ordering
martial law in much of the country, a move that went into effect with
parliamentary approval. Putin accused his Ukrainian counterpart of provoking
the naval incident as a pretext to introduce martial law in a bid to shore
up his sagging popularity and sideline competitors ahead of the March
The incident marked the first overt
collision between Russian and Ukrainian militaries since the 1991 collapse
of the Soviet Union. It has fueled fears of a wider conflict and has drawn
strong criticism of Russia from the U.S. and its allies.
In the interview with Bild, Poroshenko
lobbied the West for direct military support.
"Russian President Putin wants nothing
less but to occupy the sea," he said. "The only language he understands is
the unity of the Western world."
Putin, for his part, criticized the
West for what he described as connivance with Ukraine's "provocation."
"The authorities in Kiev are
successfully selling anti-Russian sentiments as they have nothing else left
to sell," he said. "They can get away with whatever they do. If they want to
eat babies for breakfast today, they will likely serve them too."
Police search Deutsche Bank offices in money laundering case
Police vans stand in the backyard of Deutsche
Bank headquarters during a raid in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, Nov. 29.
(AP Photo/Michael Probst)
David Rising and Frank Jordans
Berlin (AP) — Some 170 police
officers, investigators and prosecutors raided the German offices of
Deutsche Bank on Thursday on the suspicion bank employees helped clients set
up offshore companies in tax havens to launder hundreds of millions of
The investigation emerged from an
analysis of documents leaked from tax havens in recent years, including the
2016 "Panama Papers," said Frankfurt prosecutors' spokeswoman Nadja Niesen.
It is focused on two Deutsche Bank
employees, aged 50 and 46, and possibly other not-yet identified suspects,
she said. Starting at 10 a.m. locally, officers swooped on six buildings in
Frankfurt, where Deutsche Bank has its headquarters, as well as premises —
including at least one suspect's home — in nearby Eschborn and
Niesen said the analysis of the Panama
Papers and other documents "gave rise to suspicion that Deutsche Bank was
helping clients set up so-called offshore companies in tax havens and the
proceeds of crimes were transferred there from Deutsche Bank accounts"
without the bank reporting it.
In 2016 alone, more than 900 customers
are alleged to have transferred some 311 million euros to one such company
set up in the British Virgin Islands, she said.
The suspects, both German citizens, are
accused of failing to report the suspicious transactions even though there
was "sufficient evidence" to have been aware of it.
Deutsche Bank confirmed the search and
said "the investigation has to do with the Panama Papers case."
"More details will be communicated as
soon as these become known. We are cooperating fully with the authorities,"
the bank said.
Money laundering has become a growing
problem in Europe, where a series of scandals has exposed lax regulation.
And it's not the first time Deutsche
Bank has run into trouble over the flow of dirty money.
It was fined more than $600 million by
U.S. and U.K. authorities in January 2017 for allowing customers to transfer
$10 billion out of Russia in what regulators said was "highly suggestive of
The Panama Papers are a trove of
documents from a law firm that handled shell companies for thousands of the
rich and powerful around the world. While owning a shell company is not
illegal, it is used to hide the beneficial owner of a company or transfer,
making it important for the handling and laundering of dirty money.
Several other institutions besides
Deutsche Bank have been fined by authorities in the U.S. and Europe for not
properly checking up on the beneficial owners of shell companies that send
money through their accounts.
Analysts say that because these
transactions can be lucrative, banks have few incentives to do more than the
minimum required by law to check on the identity of a bank.
Most recently, Denmark's biggest bank,
Danske Bank, admitted that some 200 billion euros in suspicious money had
flown through its Estonian branch from 2007 to 2015. Whistleblower and
former employee Howard Wilkinson has indicated that Danske Bank's management
was aware of what was going on at the branch, which was among the bank's
most profitable units. He has also alleged that family members of Russian
President Vladimir Putin and Russia's spy agency were using the bank for
money laundering. The bank's CEO has since stepped down over the scandal.
Another Baltic state, Latvia, has also
emerged as a major hub of money laundering, with a 2014 leak showing that
tens of billions of dollars were funneled from Russia in 2010-14. Some of
the money reportedly went through Deutsche Bank and ended up in major
capitals like London, according to The Organized Crime and Corruption
There was no indication that Thursday's
raid was linked to that scandal, though Deutsche Bank says that it has since
stopped providing dollar transactions in some countries, including Latvia.
3 Filipino policemen convicted of murder in brutal drug war
In this Aug. 24, 2017, file photo, from left;
police officers Jeremias Pereda, Jerwin Cruz and Arnel Oares talk during a
senate hearing on the killing of Kian Loyd Delos Santos, a 17-year-old Grade
11 student, allegedly during a drug crackdown in Manila, Philippines. (AP
Manila, Philippines (AP) — A
Philippine court found three police officers guilty on Thursday of killing a
student they alleged was a drug dealer, in the first known such conviction
under the president's deadly crackdown on drugs.
Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge
Rodolfo Azucena Jr. ruled the officers murdered Kian Loyd delos Santos
during raid in a slum in the Manila metropolis last year. It rejected the
policemen's claim that the 17-year-old fired back while resisting arrest.
The court sentenced the officers to up
to 40 years in prison without parole, although they can appeal. Aside from
the prison term, the policemen, who appeared in court in handcuffs and in
yellow detainee shirts, were ordered to pay damages to Santos's impoverished
Duterte's crackdown, which has left
thousands of suspects dead reportedly in clashes with the police, has
alarmed Western governments and U.N. rights experts and horrified human
rights watchdogs. The volatile president has stressed he does not condone
extrajudicial killings, although he has repeatedly threatened drug suspects
with death and has assured police he would back them up in ways that human
rights watchdogs say have encouraged law enforcers to act with impunity.
"A shoot first, think later attitude
can never be countenanced in a civilized society. Never has homicide or
murder been a function of law enforcement," Azucena said in his ruling. "The
public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life."
Duterte's government called the ruling
"a triumph of justice," which disproved critics' assertion that the
judiciary was a rubberstamp.
"As we have always stressed, the
conduct of the government's anti-illegal drug campaign is based on
accountability. Therefore, we do not — and we will never — tolerate
unjustified police violence, brutality or killing," presidential spokesman
and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo told a news conference.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who
has railed against the drug killings, said the court decision proved that
extrajudicial killings under Duterte's crackdown were really being committed
by rogue members of the national police force.
"This is a light in the darkness,"
Hontiveros said in a statement. "Despite the gruesome climate of killing and
impunity in the country, this verdict sends the message that there is hope
and justice. And we will fight for more light and truth until the darkeness
cannot overcome them."
Hontiveros said the numbers of drug
killings, which started to rise when Duterte took office in mid-2016 and
launched his trademark war against drugs, could not have reached
"catastrophic levels if these killings did not have a sinister principle and
policy behind them."
Duterte and police officials have
repeatedly stated there was no state policy to kill drug suspects illegally.
Sri Lankan lawmakers bar disputed PM from using state funds
Sri Lanka's disputed Prime Minister Mahinda
Rajapaksa, gestures as he arrives for a meeting with his supporting law
makers at the parliamentary complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, Nov.
29. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri
Lankan lawmakers on Thursday approved a motion barring disputed Prime
Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa from using state funds after he lost two
no-confidence votes, in an escalation of the country's political crisis.
The motion was passed with 123 votes in
the 225-member Parliament as Rajapaksa supporters boycotted the proceedings
for a third day, accusing Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of bias and breaching
The passage of the motion was a setback
for Rajapaksa because it demonstrated that a majority of lawmakers oppose
the former strongman, who ruled Sri Lanka as president from 2005 to 2015.
Sri Lanka has been in a political
crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly fired
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa. Both claim to
be the legitimate officeholder, with Wickremesinghe saying he has majority
support in Parliament and his firing was invalid. Rajapaksa has moved into
the prime minister's office, while Wickremesinghe has refused to leave the
premier's official residence.
Parliament has passed two no-confidence
motions against Rajapaksa and the speaker has declared that Rajapaksa is no
longer prime minister and his government has been dissolved. But Rajapaksa
continues to function as prime minister with the backing of Sirisena, who
has dismissed the no-confidence votes, saying proper procedures were not
Ravi Karunanayake, a lawmaker from
Wickremesinghe's party who presented the motion, said Parliament has full
control over public finance and the secretary to the prime minster has no
authority to approve any expenditures from state funds.
Dinesh Gunawardena, a member of
Rajapaksa's purported Cabinet, said his camp refuses to accept Thursday's
vote. He said since a budget has already been approved for this year with
allocations for the prime minister's office, any amendment to it needs to be
brought in the form of a law by a government minister. He said it is also
unlawful to debate a matter that is before a court.
The Court of Appeal has agreed to hear
a petition challenging the right of Rajapaksa and his ministers to hold
office after the no-confidence votes.
"Parliament has full and exclusive
control over public funds. The government cannot spend a cent of public
revenue without the authorization of Parliament," said Asanga Welikala, a
constitutional expert at the Center for Policy Alternatives think tank.
However, the vote may only be symbolic
because Gunawardena's contention that an approved budget needs to be changed
by law is technically valid, he said.
"In a context of contested legitimacy
and authority, even symbolic acts by Parliament to demonstrate its lack of
confidence in the purported government are very powerful," Welikala said.
During the no-confidence motions two
weeks ago, rival lawmakers exchanged blows, and those supporting Rajapaksa
threw books, chairs and chili powder mixed with water to try to block the
proceedings. Amid the disturbance, Jayasuriya resorted to voice votes.
Both Sirisena and Rajapaksa rejected
the results of the votes, saying important issues should not be decided by
voice. Sirisena has said he will only accept a vote taken by name or through
the electronic voting system.
Sirisena served as health minster when
Rajapaksa was president. In 2014, he joined hands with opposition parties
and defeated Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election. His decision to
appoint Rajapaksa as prime minister astonished many.
Rajapaksa is considered a hero by some
in the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing
ethnic Tamil Tiger rebels. However, his time in power was marred by
allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.
Tensions had been building between
Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve
of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also
accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate
him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.
On Sunday, Sirisena said he will not
appoint Wickremesinghe as prime minister even if he controls a majority in
Wickremesinghe's party has criticized
Sirisena's stance, saying he should act within the constitution and that it
does not provide for personal vendettas.
Scientists: World still isn't ready for gene-edited babies
David Baltimore, Nobel laureate and chair of the
organizing committee delivers the statement by the organizing committee
during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Thursday, Nov. 29.
(AP Photo/Vincent Yu).
Hong Kong (AP) — A group of
leading scientists has declared that it's still too soon to try making
permanent changes to DNA that can be inherited by future generations, as
a Chinese researcher claims to have done.
The scientists gathered in Hong
Kong this week for an international conference on gene editing, the
ability to rewrite the code of life to try to correct or prevent
Although the science holds promise
for helping people already born and studies testing that are underway, a
statement issued Thursday by the 14-member conference leaders says it's
irresponsible to try it on eggs, sperm or embryos except in lab research
because not enough is known yet about its risks or safety.
The conference was rocked by the
Chinese researcher's claim to have helped make the world's first
gene-edited babies, twin girls he said were born earlier this month.
Conference leaders called for an independent investigation of the claim
by He Jiankui of Shenzhen, who spoke to the group Wednesday as
international criticism of his claim mounted.
There is no independent
confirmation of what He says he did. He was scheduled to speak again at
the conference on Thursday, but he left Hong Kong and through a
spokesman sent a statement saying "I will remain in China, my home
country, and cooperate fully with all inquiries about my work. My raw
data will be made available for third party review."
Several prominent scientists said
the case showed a failure of the field to police itself and the need for
stricter principles or regulations.
"It's not unreasonable to expect
the scientific community" to follow guidelines, said David Baltimore, a
Nobel laureate from California Institute of Technology who led the
There already are some rules that
should have prevented what He says he did, said Alta Charo, a University
of Wisconsin lawyer and bioethicist and a conference organizer.
"I think the failure was his, not
the scientific community," Charo said.
Gene editing for reproductive
purposes might be considered in the future "but only when there is
compelling medical need," with clear understanding of risks and
benefits, and certain other conditions, said Dr. Victor Dzau, president
of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, one of the conference
"Not following these guidelines
would be an irresponsible act," he added.
Other sponsors of the three-day
conference are the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong, the Royal Society
of the United Kingdom and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and U.S.
National Academy Sciences.