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Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa Brothers Win by Landslide in Parliamentary Election

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(COLOMBO, Sri Lanka) — Sri Lanka’s powerful Rajapaksa brothers secured a landslide victory in the country’s Parliamentary election, according to results released Friday.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is most likely to be sworn in the same position by his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The election results could enable them to change the constitution and strengthen dynastic rule.

“Sri Lanka People’s Front has secured a resounding victory according to official results released so far,” Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a Twitter message. “It is by belief that that the expectation to have a Parliament that will enable the implementation of my ‘vision for prosperity’ policy will be reality tomorrow,” he said.

The Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka People’s Front won 128 seats out of the total 196 seats while its main opponent had obtained only 47 seats, the election commissions’ results showed.

Sri Lanka’s parliament has 225 seats, of which 196 members are directly elected while 29 are named from a national list according to the number of votes received by each party or independent group.

The Rajapaksas’ party will get more seats from the national list, which will be announced later Friday.

The brothers need 150 seats or control of two-thirds of seats in Parliament to be able to change the constitution. However, analysts say any attempt by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to push for changes that will strengthen presidential power at the expense of those of the prime minister may trigger sibling rivalry.

Sri Lanka had been ruled by powerful executive presidents since 1978. But a 2015 constitutional amendment strengthened Parliament and the prime minister and put independent commissions in charge of judiciary appointments, police, public services and the conduct of elections.

Gotabaya was elected president last November after projecting himself as the only leader who could secure the country after the Islamic State-inspired bombings of churches and hotels on Easter Sunday that killed 269 people. Since being elected, he has said he had to function under many restrictions because of the constitutional changes.

However, Mahinda Rajapaksa is unlikely to cede any of his powers that might shrink his influence as he works on promoting his son Namal as his heir. Namal and three other members of the Rajapaksa family contested the election and are likely to control key functions in the new administration.

The landslide victory also raises fears of weakening government institutions such as independent commissions for elections, police and public service.

Votes were counted Thursday after the election on Wednesday, which was held under an election commission that emphasized following health guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

More than 70% of the country’s more than 16 million eligible voters cast ballots.

The election was originally scheduled for April, but it was twice postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sri Lanka has largely contained the spread of the virus with 2,839 confirmed cases, including 11 deaths.





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Europe’s COVID-19 Cases Are Spiking. Here’s How 4 Different Countries Are Trying to Stop a Second Wave

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A resurgence in COVID-19 cases has gripped countries across Europe, leaving politicians grappling with how to curb the spread of the virus. Governments are now strengthening regulations around mask-wearing, limiting the number of people that can gather in public spaces, and honing in on areas with particularly high numbers of cases.

This week, Europe experienced a record high number of new coronavirus cases reaching 71,365 on Sept. 21, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. “More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10% increase in the past two weeks,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe said at a briefing.

Even countries that had largely avoided the first coronavirus wave—such as Czech Republic—are now seeing surges. Stricter regulations to try and curb the spread of the virus could remain in place for the entire winter. In the United Kingdom, for example, where case rates are doubling by the week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions yesterday that could last six months, warning that the country is at “a perilous turning point.”

Many of the new restrictions, however, look different to those imposed at the beginning of the pandemic. Rather than implementing uniform, nationwide regulations, many countries are now opting for more localized approaches.

Why are governments in Europe locking down by region?

Countries are wary of nationwide lockdowns that would have crippling impacts on their economies. Local restrictions allow governments to curb the spread of the virus while keeping parts of the country—and the economy—open. But restrictions are also different this time because the nature of the pandemic itself has changed. New infection clusters appear to be linked to younger people, who are less likely to die of the virus. The result is that this latest surge of cases has so far been less deadly than the first back in March and less burdensome to healthcare services.

“Even if the number of cases are high, the impact in terms of hospitalization and deaths is very different [compared to March]”, says Dr Jacobo Mendioroz, the director and coordinator of the committee responding to coronavirus in Catalonia. Rather than calling for stay-at-home orders, many new restrictions target bars, restaurants or other public venues that young people may be more likely to frequent.

But the new restrictions could change if older people begin falling ill in greater numbers. Already, there has been a significant increase in the number of older people testing positive for the virus in France and Spain over the past two weeks, leading to upticks in hospital admissions. Rising case numbers threaten to overrun hospitals and health care services if not managed carefully. “We are not in the situation we were in March yet,” says Dominique Costalgliola, a member of the French Academy of Science and the vice-dean of research for the faculty of medicine at the Sorbonne University.

Here is how four European countries are responding to the recent surge of coronavirus cases:

Spain

Bernat Armangue—APElders wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus sit on a park in Madrid, Spain, on Sept. 23, 2020.

Spain has been facing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases since July and now has the highest infection rate in Europe. Over the past two weeks, 122,000 new COVID-19 cases have been reported, with close to a third of cases occurring in Madrid, the country’s capital. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at more than 640,000 and hospitals are reaching their maximum capacity.

On Sept. 18, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the Madrid region, announced a partial lockdown of the 37 most affected parts of the region, which came into effect on Monday. The measures—which affect close to 850,000 people, many of whom live in the poorest parts of the city—require individuals to provide justification for trips out of their neighborhoods and has limited the number of people allowed in restaurants or retail establishments.

The news of the lockdown sparked protests in Madrid, where hundreds gathered on Sept. 20. The groups that organized the protests said in a statement that the government has done little to protect vulnerable people in the city and have “instead opted for stigmatisation, exclusion and territorial discrimination.”

France

On Sept. 12, French health authorities reported 10,561 new cases, the highest number since the pandemic began in March. Since then, daily cases have risen to more than 13,000. The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases is now at 453,763 and continues to rise. It has the second highest number of total cases in Europe, after Spain.

France Virus Outbreak
Bob Edme—APTechnicians prepare to collect nasal swab samples for at a COVID-19 testing centre in Bayonne, France, on Sept. 22, 2020.

The government has delegated the task of implementing new regulations to regional authorities. Currently, the outbreaks appear to be occurring in certain locations and not in others and a nationwide lockdown would have unnecessary economic repercussions, Prime Minister Jean Castex has said.

In Paris, Marseille and Bordeaux, all major hotspots for the virus, authorities have implemented local measures to curb the spread. In Bordeaux and Marseille, visits to care homes have been reduced, dancing has been banned at bars and weddings and local companies have been asked to make their employees work from home if possible. In Marseille and Paris, the sale and consumption of alcohol on the streets after 8p.m. has been banned. Wearing a face mask in public is now mandatory across Paris and many of its surrounding areas. Riot police units and gendarmes have been deployed to enforce these measures.

However, despite the tightening of these restrictions, the government announced on Sept. 20 that quarantine rules in elementary schools would be relaxed, amid rising evidence that children pose a small risk for the transmission of COVID-19. Schools will now only shut if a minimum of three students test positive for the virus.

Ireland

Ireland is facing a rise in COVID-19 cases, particularly in Dublin, the country’s capital. On Sept. 22, 188 new daily cases were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team, 76 of which are in Dublin. Ireland has logged 33,121 COVID-19 cases, in a country of 4.6 million.

The government introduced a new plan for ‘Living With Covid’ with five different levels. Dublin has been placed under level 3 restrictions, while the rest of the country is at level 2. In Dublin, indoor social gatherings have been limited to visitors from only one other household and cannot exceed six people. All museums and other cultural attractions have been closed. Restaurants, cafes and pubs can only stay open for take-away services or for outdoor dining. Everyone has been asked to work from home if possible.

At a COVID-19 briefing on Sept. 21, Liz Canavan, the assistant secretary general at the Department of Taoiseach (the Irish’s Prime Minister’s office), said there was now “worrying trends in most areas,” making it possible that restrictions in Dublin could be extended to other parts of the country.

Germany

Virus Outbreak Germany Daily Life
Matthias Schrader—APYoung women wearing face masks as they walk trough downtown Munich, Germany on Sept. 22, 2020.

Germany has one of the most effective test, track and tracing systems in the world for COVID-19. And while the country is faring better than others in Europe, Germany is nevertheless seeing a rise in case numbers, with 1,345 new cases reported on September 20, increasing the total number of confirmed cases to 271,415. German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that surges in infection rates in neighboring countries have affected—and would inevitably continue to affect—Germany.

Like in other nations, many of Germany’s new restrictions are highly localized. In the southern state of Bavaria—which is the most affected part of the country—new measures were implemented on Sept. 22, the toughest restrictions Germany has seen since it began relaxing measures back in May. Gatherings are now limited to five people or two households, mask-wearing is mandatory in public areas, alcohol consumption in public places is banned and a curfew on restaurants has been implemented.





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Coronavirus live news: Indonesia sees record case rise; India deaths pass 90,000

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Israel announces plans for stricter lockdown; Paris to unveil tighter restrictions; Follow the latest updates

2.01am BST

Australia’s Victoria state, the epicentre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, said on Thursday the number of new daily infections was close to a three-month low, buoying hopes that restrictions will be eased sooner than expected, Reuters reports.

The Victorian government said 12 people had been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, near a three-month low of 11 cases reported earlier this week.

Australia’s second-most-populous state is on an extended hard lockdown until 27 September, although some restrictions may be eased earlier if new infections continue to trend lower.

The two-week average of new infections in state capital Melbourne dropped below 27 on Thursday. If average cases remain below 50 by Sunday, some restrictions may be relaxed, the government has said.

Victoria’s outbreak has had a devastating impact on the national economy due to lockdown measures including the closure of non-essential businesses and a nightly curfew.

The state accounts for 90% of Australia’s total coronavirus deaths of 859. The country has reported nearly 27,000 cases, well below the numbers seen in many other developed nations.

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), said it planned to hold the traditional New Years Eve firework extravaganza over Sydney Harbour.

NSW had warned the event could be cancelled due to concerns that social distancing restrictions could not be enforced, though waning case numbers have seen the state relax curbs on public gatherings.

1.20am BST

Concerns around contacting GPs during the coronavirus outbreak could be fuelling a rise in missed or delayed diagnoses, researchers have said.

A growing body of research has suggested that patients have avoided seeking medical attention because of the pandemic. Figures have revealed a large increase in the numbers of people dying at home, while visits to A&E have been markedly reduced.

Related: Fear of contacting GPs during Covid outbreak ‘fuelling missed diagnoses’

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He Killed 2 Marines in 2011. It Almost Derailed Peace Talks This Month.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — He was a young Afghan police officer working alongside American forces in one of the hot spots of the war, with Taliban ambushes all around. Then he turned his weapon on two U.S. Marines, killing them both.Now, he is out of prison.His attack, in Helmand province in 2011, was a serious eruption in a phenomenon that within a year would redefine the American war in Afghanistan: insider killings, often by members of the Afghan security forces who, like the police officer, were not at the time part of the Taliban.But just this month, that officer, Mohammad Dawood, 31, reached the top of the Taliban's list of prisoners they wanted released as they negotiated the opening of peace talks with the Afghan government. And along with just five other men detained after killing Westerners, his fate became a sticking point that nearly derailed the whole process, officials say.While the Taliban made the men's release an ultimatum before they would go to the table, officials for the United States, France and Australia were quietly urging the Afghan government not to let them go — even as they told the Afghan government to free thousands of other Taliban prisoners with Afghan blood on their hands in order to open the way for the talks.Only a last-minute deal to remand the six to a kind of house arrest in Qatar allowed the opening of peace talks on Sept. 12.Dawood, whose name had not been publicly released but whose identity was confirmed by American and Afghan officials, now stands as a symbol of the difficulty — and tough choices — involved in trying to make peace in the middle of a bitter war.Dawood's killings of Lt. Col. Benjamin Palmer and Sgt. Kevin Balduf in 2011 represent only a fraction of more than 40 years of violence. But the Taliban's willingness to go to the brink for him in negotiations, despite his acting only on his own behalf, according to his family and close friends, was a stark demonstration of how even isolated disputes can threaten the peace process."We are not happy about the release of some prisoners, and we know our allies Australia and France are not happy about the release of some," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan peace. In all, the Afghan government freed 5,000 prisoners demanded by the Taliban. "But we understand that this difficult step was in the service of something even more important, which is to get the Afghan war to come to an end, and it was a necessary step."The Taliban have consistently made prisoner releases a priority — most notably in the 2014 exchange of an American soldier held by the Taliban for five years, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, for five senior Taliban figures who were being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. That deal brought heavy criticism for the Obama administration, and during his campaign for the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor who should be executed.Both Khalilzad as well as Mutlaq al-Qahtani, the Qatari special envoy for the process, refused to discuss details of the arrangement regarding the six prisoners, including where in Qatar the men are being held and under what circumstances. Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan's vice president, in a recent interview said the men would not be allowed to leave Qatar — all the pages on their passports are crossed out except for the one with the Qatari visa.Stopping deadly insider attacks like the one by Dawood was once an urgent imperative for the Obama administration. By the end of President Barack Obama's first term, cultural tensions and increasing pressure from the Taliban had spilled over into violence as Afghan troops turned their guns on their Western allies, threatening to derail the war effort.By the height of the war, Americans were building outposts within outposts to defend themselves from the very people they were supposed to be training and fighting alongside.Insider attacks became a grim feature of the conflict. The deaths of Palmer, 43, and Balduf, 27, came during a flurry of such killings that peaked in 2012, accounting for 15% of coalition troops who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan that year.Of the four U.S. troops killed in combat in 2020, two were killed in an insider attack in February, marking the last U.S. troops to die from hostile fire before the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban.But as was the case for many such attacks, Dawood was not a part of an insurgent group when he killed the two Marines, according to those close to him and to an Afghan official familiar with his case.Born in Naw Bahar, a small, staunchly anti-Taliban village in Baghlan province, Dawood was one of five brothers and the son of Mohammad Zahir, a poor wheat farmer. He studied at a madrassa in Kunduz and Baghlan, before studying in Pakistan and Iran, where like many Afghans he worked for a brief time.Safdar Mohseni, head of the Baghlan provincial council, said Dawood had most likely turned to the Taliban in prison, looking for support."He was a good person to me in every way — psychologically, scientifically, religiously — and was a patriot," said Saqi Mohammad Numani, a religious scholar who taught Dawood for several years. "Like Dawood, I have thousands of students who are not in favor of violence and terror, and Dawood was not in favor of violence."After returning from Iran, Dawood was engaged to be married, but because he was low on money, he joined the Afghan police. He trained in Kabul for six months in 2010 and graduated as a sergeant, according to a senior police official who served alongside him in southern Afghanistan.Not long after Dawood left police training in 2011, he was assigned to the Afghan National Civil Order Police's 5th Brigade, a new unit the U.S. military was training in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province. As the Taliban began regaining ground, U.S. and NATO forces started a concerted effort to professionalize the police force to hold what districts the Afghan government still controlled.On May 12, 2011, Dawood walked from the Afghan portion of his base in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and entered the U.S. side, where his Marine advisers lived, slept and ate.A small group of Marines were outside eating dinner when Dawood lifted his assault rifle and began firing, killing Palmer and Balduf. Marines fired back, wounding Dawood.Cultural misunderstandings and disgust with Westerners were traced to many insider killings. When the attacks began in earnest in 2008, they took a deep toll on the U.S.-Afghan relationship, sowing doubt and distrust that was only exacerbated by the stress of training and combat.In a country rife with anti-Semitism, Dawood appeared to turn to that in an attempt to justify his actions. He told investigators he killed the Americans because he thought they were Jews and he did not want to live among them. He said no one had provoked him, though the senior Afghan official said that Dawood's fundamentalist education in Iran and Pakistan was probably a catalyst for this contempt.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company



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