Featured World News
06/29/22 6:57 AM
By Uditha Jayasinghe COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan doctors and other medical staff as well as teachers will take to the streets on Wednesday to demand that the government solve a severe fuel shortage at the heart of the South Asian country's worst economic crisis in decades. Weeks of street demonstrations against cascading problems including power cuts and shortages of food and medicine escalated last month when nine people were killed and about 300 were injured, leading to the resignation of the prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the older brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The government, left with only enough fuel to last about a week, on Tuesday restricted supplies to essential services, like trains, buses and the health sector, for two weeks. But doctors, nurses and other medical staff say that even though they are deemed essential workers, they struggle to find fuel to get to work. "This is an impossible situation, the government has to give us a solution," H. M. Mediwatta, secretary of one of Sri Lanka's largest nursing unions, the All Island Nurses Union, told reporters. Sri Lanka's most serious economic crisis since independence in 1948 comes after COVID-19 battered its tourism-reliant economy and slashed remittances from its overseas workers. Rising oil prices, populist tax cuts and a seven-month ban on the import of chemical fertilisers last year that devastated agriculture have compounded the woes. Mediwatta explained how special token meant to ensure medical staff can buy fuel were being ignored at the petrol pumps. "The people at the pump won't let us get ahead in the line ... We cannot be on time for our shifts." Public health inspectors and other health service workers are also on strike on Wednesday and Thursday. The island nation of 22 million people has nearly run out of usable foreign exchange reserves to import essentials including food, medicine, petrol and diesel. With a growing sense of crisis, many people have been detained trying to flee the country by boat. The government is also looking abroad for help. Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera on Tuesday met Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, Qatar's minister of state for energy affairs and the CEO of Qatar Energy in a bid to secure fuel. Wijesekera is also seeking a credit line from the Qatar Fund for Development. Another Sri Lankan minister will travel to Russia at the weekend in search of energy deals. U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged $20 million for Sri Lanka to feed more than 800,000 children and 27,000 pregnant women and lactating mothers for the next 15 months, President Rajapaksa said. Investment firm Asia Securities said the shortages of fuel and other essentials, dwindling reserves, and low fiscal space would remain key concerns for the rest of the year. The economy could contract by 7.5% to 9.0% year on year, compared with its previous forecast of a contraction of about 5.5%. The economy grew by 3.3% last year, it said. "This combined with low USD liquidity and rising rates looks to dampen economic productivity for the medium term," it said. (Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe; Writing by Krishna N. Das)
07/01/22 11:16 AM
They say you never forget your first love, and after pining for his stolen guitar for almost half a century, Canadian rock star Randy Bachman has finally been reunited with the instrument which an eagle-eyed fan tracked down in Japan.Bachman, who wrote the original "American Woman" with his band The Guess Who, was in Tokyo for the emotional handover on Friday -- 46 years after his cherished orange Gretsch was snatched from a Toronto hotel."Wow," a stunned Bachman said, holding the guitar lovingly and tuning it up on stage before playing in a special concert at the Canadian Embassy.The 78-year-old told AFP he had been "pretty much devastated" by the theft."With that guitar, I wrote many million-selling songs... it was like my magical guitar. And then when it's suddenly gone, the magic is gone."The rocker bought the now vintage 6120 Chet Atkins model as a teenager in the early 1960s with $400 painstakingly saved up from mowing lawns, washing cars and babysitting.He had long admired the instrument, spending hours staring at it in a shop window in Winnipeg with his friend and fellow musician Neil Young.It meant so much to Bachman that he would chain it to hotel toilets on tour. "Everybody in the band made fun of me, but because I worked so hard to get this guitar, I didn't want it stolen."But in 1976, he entrusted the guitar to a roadie who put it in a room with other luggage while the band was checking out.Before they knew it, it was gone.Some sleuthing and a handoverOver the decades, Bachman hunted for his Gretsch, which has a small, dark knot in the wood grain on its front, but to no avail -- until a Canadian fan decided to help with the search from his home in 2020.William Long compared old images of the stolen instrument with new and archived pictures of the model on guitar shop websites around the world."Yeah, I'm a sleuth," Long, 58, told AFP. "I was confident I was going to find it. I got the process down so quick -- I went through 300 images of orange Gretches."None were a perfect match, until he found one on the site of a Tokyo guitar shop with the tell-tale mark.More searching pointed Long to a Japanese musician called Takeshi, who he spotted playing Bachman's beloved guitar in a YouTube video.Takeshi, who had always wanted a vintage Gretsch, says he bought Bachman's guitar in 2014 for around 850,000 yen ($6,300).Long alerted Bachman to his discovery, and the musicians arranged to meet in Tokyo to swap Bachman's original guitar with another of the same type, also made in 1957.On Friday, at an event held on Canada Day, the pair shared a big hug and then jammed together.They performed songs including "American Woman", the 1970 hit later covered by US singer Lenny Kravitz, and "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman's other band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive.Bachman is not the only rock star to be reunited with a long-lost guitar: last year, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page also tracked one down that went missing at an airport decades ago.But Bachman, who had given up ever finding the guitar after four decades of searching, said he had been touched by Long's "random act of kindness"."When I was playing it, I looked down and figured -– time has stood still, or 50 years has just flown by really fast," he said."I couldn't have written this if I wrote it as a script. Nobody would believe it. But it's true. It's really great."© 2022 AFP
07/01/22 11:27 AM
As Chinese leader Xi Jinping left Hong Kong Friday after a rare visit to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the city's handover from Britain, reactions to his speech ranged from deeming it "reassuring" to terming his stance "delusional".The Chinese Communist Party places great importance on anniversaries, and the trip presented Xi with an opportunity to emphasize China's authority over Hong Kong after three years of political upheaval there."Xi's speech and language reiterated the political message to Hong Kong since the national security law," political scientist Kenneth Chan from Hong Kong Baptist University told AFP."Beijing now exercises total control over the city through the loyalists."Since China imposed a national security law on the city following huge pro-democracy protests that engulfed the city in 2019, dissent has been stifled in the once politically vibrant city.Xi's insistence that democracy was flourishing despite the years-long political crackdown was met with scorn by those who had been most affected by Beijing's tightening grip on the city.Ted Hui, a former opposition lawmaker who fled overseas in 2020 after being arrested multiple times, said Xi's remark that "true democracy" only began after the handover was "a lie"."As early as the 1970s and 1980s, Hong Kong people had started our own democracy movement, and begun to develop our civil society," he told AFP.He said that under British rule the city had never had full democracy, but that now "we have lost both the formality and the substance of democracy, particularly after the implementation of the national security law".One of his former colleagues, Emily Lau, said that "true democracy never started in Hong Kong –- neither before or after 1997".She agreed that now, the city had "lost both freedoms and democracy".'Clear and solid'After waving Xi off at a high-speed train station, new Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said the visit had been "inspiring".Xi said repeatedly that One Country, Two Systems -- the governance model agreed by Britain and China under which the city would keep some autonomy and freedoms -- was working well and did not need to change.Lee said Xi's remarks were a "very clear and very solid" declaration.The sentiment was echoed by Hong Kong's Law Society, which put out a statement saying Xi's "clear reassurances and inspirational directions on the well-being of Hong Kong and our integration into the overall development of our country were encouraging".Hui was scathing of the idea that the governance model was working well."I think it's delusional to say that Hong Kong can continue to maintain its unique advantages under the current system," he said. "Because Hong Kong's uniqueness used to lie in its liberty, its autonomy in policy making."On Hong Kong's streets, wet from thunderstorms that pummeled the city all day Friday, 46-year-old Jonathan Yeung said Xi's position that One Country, Two Systems had no reason to change was "laughable"."He was behind the biggest changes," he said."(Xi's) speech was just a to-do list for John Lee, I don't think he was addressing Hong Kongers like me."A jewelry shop owner surnamed Wan, 44, said he thought it was good Xi had set out clear priorities for the next administration.He agreed with Xi's sentiment that Hong Kong "could not afford to fall into chaos"."The past few years were very tough, no matter one's politics and occupation," Wan said.In his speech, Xi put particular emphasis on young people, saying that authorities "must enhance their national pride and sense of ownership".A man surnamed Lee, a 19-year-old university student, was unimpressed by Xi's exhortations."When he says more focus on youth, that only means more nationalistic agenda being pushed in schools," he told AFP."He doesn't care what young people themselves want."© 2022 AFP
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