The Fall of Sri Lanka’s House of Rajapaksa



Brahma Chellaney
The Fall of Sri Lanka’s House of Rajapaksa. Photo collected.

The Fall of Sri Lanka’s House of Rajapaksa. Photo collected.

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For nearly two decades, the four Rajapaksa brothers and their sons have run Sri Lanka like a family business—and a disorderly one, at that. With their grand construction projects and spendthrift ways, they saddled Sri Lanka with unsustainable debts, driving the country into its worst economic crisis since independence. Now, the dynasty has fallen.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was instrumental in establishing the dynasty. After becoming president in 2005, he ruled with an iron fist for a decade, attacking civil liberties, expanding presidential powers (including abolishing term limits) and making bad deal after bad deal with China. Throughout this process, he kept his family close, with his younger brother Gotabaya holding the defence portfolio.

But in 2015, Mahinda narrowly lost the presidential election and the Rajapaksas were briefly driven from power. During that time, parliament restored the presidential term limit, ruling out another Mahinda presidency. Yet the family quickly devised a plan to restore their dynasty: Gotabaya would renounce his US citizenship and run for president.

Gotabaya was well-positioned to win. After all, he had been defence secretary in 2009 when Mahinda ordered the final military offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels, bringing a brutal 26-year civil war to a decisive end. With that, the Rajapaksa brothers emerged as heroes among Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.

To be sure, the final offensive killed as many as 40,000 civilians and sparked international accusations of war crimes. The United Nations described it as a ‘grave assault on the entire regime of international law’. According to wartime military commander Sarath Fonseka, Gotabaya ordered the summary execution of surrendering rebel leaders. In California, where he was previously domiciled, Gotabaya faces civil charges over alleged war crimes.

But the Rajapaksa brothers simply presented themselves as hardheaded custodians of Sinhalese interests. And, thanks largely to his ethno-nationalist credentials, Gotabaya won the 2019 election—at which point he immediately appointed Mahinda as his prime minister. Mahinda then appointed his two sons, his other two brothers and his nephew as ministers or to other government positions.

The same year, 277 people were killed, and hundreds more wounded, in bombings carried out by Islamist extremists on Easter Sunday. The attack highlighted tensions that had been simmering since 2009: though the military offensive marginalised the Hindu-majority Tamils, the war’s end sowed the seeds of religious conflict between the Buddhist-majority Sinhalese and Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who constitute a tenth of the country’s population. The Easter Sunday terrorist bombings provided new ammunition for the Rajapaksas to whip up Sinhalese nationalism.

Beyond deepening ethnic and religious fault lines, Gotabaya followed his brother in establishing an imperial presidency, exemplified by the passage in 2020 of a constitutional amendment expanding the president’s power to dissolve the legislature. And he helped to push Sri Lanka further into the economic death spiral that his brother had helped create, not least through his dealings with China.

During Mahinda’s rule, as China shielded the Rajapaksas from war-crime charges at the UN, it won major infrastructure contracts in Sri Lanka and became the country’s leading lender. Debt to China piled up, incurred largely over the construction of monuments to the Rajapaksa dynasty in the family’s home district of Hambantota.

Examples include ‘the world’s emptiest’ airport, a cricket stadium with more seats than the district capital’s population, and a US$1.4 billion seaport that remained largely idle until it was signed away to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease. The most extravagant China-backed project is the US$13-billion ‘Port City,’ which is being built on land reclaimed from the sea close to the centre of the capital, Colombo.

China’s modus operandi is to cut deals with strongmen and exploit their countries’ vulnerabilities to gain a strategic foothold. China’s larger aims in Sri Lanka were suggested in 2014, when two Chinese submarines made separate unannounced visits to Colombo, docking at a newly built container terminal owned largely by Chinese state companies.

So, China gained leverage over a country located near some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and Sri Lanka became increasingly mired in debt, including ‘hidden debt’ to China from loans whose public disclosure was prohibited by their terms. But hubris prevented the Rajapaksas from recognising the looming crisis. On the contrary, they enacted a sweeping tax cut in 2019 that wiped out a third of the country’s tax revenues.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, crushing the tourism and garment industries—Sri Lanka’s two main foreign-exchange earners. More recently, the war in Ukraine, by triggering soaring international energy and food prices, helped to drain Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves, creating fuel, food, medicine and electricity shortages. It was the final straw for many Sri Lankans, who took to the streets in droves.

On 9 May, Mahinda reluctantly resigned from his post as prime minister, in an effort to appease protesters. But protests continued to rage, culminating in the storming of the seaside presidential palace by demonstrators. Gotabaya fled minutes earlier before conveying his decision to resign.

Within Sri Lanka, photos of protesters lounging on the president’s bed and cooking in his backyard have become a symbol of people’s power. But they should also serve as a warning to political dynasties elsewhere in the world, from Asia to Latin America. When a family dominates a government or party, accountability tends to suffer, often leading to catastrophe. This can cause even the most entrenched dynasty to fall—and swiftly.

There is also a lesson for other heavily indebted countries. Unless they take action to make their debts sustainable, they could quickly be overwhelmed by crisis.

As for Sri Lanka, its next leaders will have to address shortages of basic necessities, rebuild a wrecked economy, re-establish the rule of law and hold responsible those who caused the current disaster. But in a country where politics is a blood sport, one should not underestimate the challenge of overcoming the Rajapaksas’ corrosive legacy.

[ Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi–based Centre for Policy Research and fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of 'Water, peace, and war: confronting the global water crisis'.]

How to See the Sturgeon Full Moon, Last Supermoon of 2022



International Desk, Barta24.com
Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

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The last supermoon of 2022 is set to shine this Thursday. Known as the sturgeon moon, the event is a perfect excuse to step outside at night to enjoy the celestial show. Take some binoculars and treat yourself to a closer view of our lunar neighbor's scenic craters.

The sturgeon moon nickname traces to the Maine Farmer's Almanac and its listing of Native American names for moons, said NASA's Gordon Johnston in a full moon guide for August and September. This is a good time of year to catch sturgeon fish.

While the moon will be full at 6:36 p.m. PT on Thursday, Johnston said it will appear full from Wednesday morning through Saturday morning, giving you multiple chances to revel in the view.

In case clouds, weather or other circumstances get in the way, you can tune in to the Virtual Telescope Project's full moon livestream from Rome at 10:30 p.m. PT on Aug. 11.

The term "supermoon" is inexact. It's meant to highlight those times when the moon is closest to Earth, which can make it appear slightly bigger and brighter. Johnston calls August's full moon a "marginal supermoon," saying it's the third closest full moon of the year. The June and July full moons were closer.

The beauty of the full moon is that it doesn't really matter if it's super or not. It's going to be gorgeous. All you need is the right timing, a clear sky and your eyes. As a bonus, we're also hitting the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, so look out for shooting stars, too. Check out these tips for spotting the Perseids even during a full moon.

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India's aviation regulatory body to allow transgender pilots to fly the planes



International Desk
India's aviation regulatory body to allow transgender pilots to fly the planes

India's aviation regulatory body to allow transgender pilots to fly the planes

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Taking a welcome step toward inclusivity and breaking the glass ceiling, India's civil aviation regulatory body Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Wednesday, for the first time, issued medical guidelines that will allow transgenders and non-binary individuals to fly aeroplanes in the country.

Reportedly, DGCA in its circular stated that transgender candidates who have completed their hormone therapy for transition or have gone under the knife more than five years ago will be able to fly the planes, after clearing mental health screening tests.

The mental health tests will be based on the blueprint laid out by World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

“Those transgender applicants who have been taking hormone therapy or had a gender reassignment surgery within the last five years will be screened for their mental health status,” read the circular.

As for those individuals that have completed their treatment within the last five years, they will have to undergo not only psychological and psychiatric evaluations but also submit a detailed evaluation from their endocrinologist as well as surgeon about any surgery that might have taken place in the last year.

If the candidate manages to tick every single box in the evaluation, then only they will be declared fit and allowed to sit in the cockpits.

Furthermore, those on life-long hormone therapy will only be admitted if they can prove that they have reached a stable dose. 

Meanwhile, the novices who have started the therapy or gone under the knife only recently will be deemed medically 'unfit' and will have to wait for a period of three months to seek another attempt. 

“If the applicant is on hormone replacement therapy (as applicable), as with any medication, on commencement of hormone therapy or any change in the drug or adjustment of its dose, the applicant will be declared medically ‘unfit’ for at least three months,”

According to DGCA, the medical guidelines are applicable for all categories of pilot's license viz. private pilot’s license, student’s pilot license and commercial pilot license.

However, a caveat of transgender persons being allowed to only fly as first officers has been added. In case a transgender pilot is the pilot-in-command, their co-pilot ought to have 250 hours of experience on that machine.

As reported by WION, India's first transgender pilot, 23-year-old Adam Harry was earlier declared unfit for flying an aircraft by the DGCA. It was Adam's efforts that led DGCA to bring about a sea of changes in its policy.

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Details emerge about Crimea blast



News Desk, Barta24.com
Details emerge about Crimea blast, Photo collected.

Details emerge about Crimea blast, Photo collected.

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According to international media reports, the damage at a Russian air base in Crimea appears to be worse than the Kremlin initially claimed.

After a series of explosions on Tuesday, Crimea’s leader declared a state of emergency and said that more than 250 people had to evacuate from their homes. Officials on the Russian-occupied peninsula said at least one person was killed and dozens more were wounded.

Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility for the explosions. But a senior military official said Ukraine’s special forces and partisan resistance fighters were behind the blast.

As per experts analysis, the blasts could be important, because any Ukrainian attack on Russian forces in the Crimean Peninsula would be a significant expansion of Ukraine’s offensive efforts. Until now, Ukraine has focused on pushing Russians back from territories occupied after the invasion began.

In terms of nuclear plant, Russian missiles killed 13 people near a Russian-held nuclear plant in the south, a Ukrainian official said. Russia may try to divert its electricity to Crimea, which could intensify military competition for the plant and heighten the risk of an accident.

Press reports further said that Russian investigators detained a former state television journalist yesterday, months after she staged a rare on-air protest against the war in Ukraine.

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Top 10 Nations With The Most Smartphone Users



Maria Gourtsilidou
Top 10 Nations With The Most Smartphone Users

Top 10 Nations With The Most Smartphone Users

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The country with the most smartphone users is China. More than 950 million people use smartphones in China. This means that the Chinese market is larger than that of India, the US, and Indonesia combined.

After China, in second place in the world is India. Smartphone users in India amount to 493 million. In third place in the world is the United States, with 274 million users. The USA is followed by Indonesia, with 170 million smartphone users.

Brazil with 119 million users, Russia with 102 million, Japan with 83 million users, and Mexico with 75 million are the next largest smartphone markets worldwide. Lastly, Vietnam with 67 million and Germany with 66 million users complete the top ten.

The data from Statista.com shows the number of smartphone users in the US from 2018 to 2025. By the year 2022, the number of smartphone users in the United States is estimated to reach 301.65 million. This number will further rise in the coming years. By 2023, the number of smartphone users in the United States is estimated to reach 305.1 million. In 2024, the number of smartphone users in the United States is estimated to reach 308.39 million, while in 2025, the number of smartphone users in the United States is estimated to reach 311.53 million.

Although the smartphone penetration rate as a share of the population in the United States in 2010 was 20.2%, it soon rose to higher levels. For example, in 2015, the smartphone penetration rate as a share of the population in the United States was 59,4%, in 2018 was 69,6%, in 2020 was 72,2% and in 2021 was 72,7%.
Statista.com indicates that the popularity of the smartphone in the US has risen immensely since Apple introduced its first iPhone in 2007.

The first iPhone was quite different from other smartphones. This is because it used a large touchscreen for finger input rather than a stylus, keypad, or keyboard. It was in 2008 that the first smartphone to use the Android OS (HTC Dream) was released. Although people using this OS were not many at the beginning, it has since grown to be the most used operating system over the years.

The smartphone industry, despite problems in 2021, such as low stock availability, increased sales compared to 2020. Limited stocks in popular models are expected to postpone some of the potential sales for 2022.

Smartphone sales revenue between the years 2013 and 2020 reached 409 billion dollars, according to Statista.com. More specifically, between the years 2013 and 2018, the greatest smartphone sales value compared to other regions was reported in China. In China, smartphone sales value between 2013 and 2018 reached almost 153 billion dollars. At the same time, smartphone sales value reached 84 billion dollars between 2013 and 2017 in North America, while the value of smartphone sales in Western Europe between 2013 and 2017 reached 56 billion dollars.

There are some top manufacturers of smartphones on the market. For example, Huawei’s market share of smartphone shipments during Q4 2020 was 8.4%, while Samsung’s global smartphone market share was 20.6%. At the same time, Apple’s smartphone sales market share worldwide is 23.4%. Not to forget to mention that according to data from Statista.com, the Android operating system market share worldwide is 85.9%.

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