Sri Lanka Lawmakers Swear in President After Rajapaksa Resigns
Many protestors are unhappy with their new leader, but some hope a more stable government will speed up negotiations with international lenders.
New Face, Old Politics
After more than 100 days of protests that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa out of office last week, Sri Lanka’s parliament has sworn in a new president: Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Lawmakers voted 134-82 in favor of the Rajapaksa ally, with Rajapaksa’s party predominantly voting yes.
Wickremesinghe is intensely unpopular among the general population and especially among protestors, who had called for him to resign.
His party was wiped out in the 2020 elections, failing to keep a single constituency, but he held onto his post.
When Rajapaksa fled the country for the Maldives, then Singapore, then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe became acting president.
Rajapaksa formally resigned, triggering the election that concluded Wednesday.
The announcement of the results prompted chants by protestors saying, “Go home, Ranil,” which lasted a few minutes.
“The economy of the country today is in a very difficult place,” Wickremesinghe said in a speech. “Young men and women are asking for change in the system. … To go forward, we need to come up with a new program.”
Although large-scale protests did not continue Wednesday, some vowed to keep pressing their demands.
“We won’t back down,” one woman told Reuters. “We won’t let this be. We won’t settle for any less.”
“Parliamentarians have failed us,” a man told the Associated Press. “They have failed us, because they have not listened to the people’s demands.”
Wickremesinghe served as prime minister a record six times and unsuccessfully ran for president twice.
The Worst Crisis Since Independence
For months, Sri Lanka has been rocked by an ever-deepening economic collapse precipitated by dwindling foreign exchange reserves that have left the government largely unable to import key commodities such as food, fuel, and medicine.
In May, it defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt for the first time in its history.
As of last week, the country’s currency lost 80% of its value, making imports more expensive and driving up inflation, which currently sits around 55%.
People struggle to meet basic needs, with one woman who is three-months pregnant telling Sky News she can’t afford the fruits and vegetables needed to keep her unborn baby healthy.
Protests in the capital Colombo swelled to a breaking point over a week ago when crowds of people burned down the prime minister’s residence and stormed the president’s. Both officials promised to resign the same day, but only Rajapaksa has done so.
Some observers believe Wednesday’s transfer of power will stabilize the government so that it can effectively negotiate a financial bailout with the International Monetary Fund.
Others also speculate that Rajapaksa’s exit may cause social unrest to simmer down for the near future.
The week’s events marked the end of a political dynasty that dominated Sri Lankan politics for some two decades.
Barring any contingencies, Wickremesinghe will serve out the remainder of the former president’s term, which ends in November 2024.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Dutch Man Who Fathered Over 500 Kids Is Being Sued to Stop Donating Sperm Over Incest Concerns
Meijer is accused of having children in 13 different countries.
Johnathon Jacob Meijer, a 41-year-old Dutch man, is currently facing a lawsuit that aims to forbid him from donating sperm after he allegedly fathered at least 550 children.
The lawsuit claims that Meijer’s prolific and obsessive donation habit heightens the risk of accidental incest for his children.
Meijer has donated to at least 13 clinics, mostly located in the Netherlands. He also used websites and social media to reach out to women looking for donors. In 2017, after the Dutch Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology learned that Meijer had already fathered more than 100 children, he was blacklisted from all clinics in the Netherlands. However, he has reportedly continued his donations in Ukraine, Denmark, and other countries.
One professional tracking Meijer’s movements told The New York Times in 2021 that she had found mothers of his children in Australia, Italy, Serbia, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, Romania, Sweden, Mexico, and the United States.
One mother from the Netherlands has partnered with Donorkind — a Dutch organization for children conceived via a sperm donor — to bring this lawsuit against Meijer.
The mother claims that Meijer told her that he didn’t have more than 25 donor children.
“When I think about the consequences this could have for my child, I get a bad gut feeling and I become uncertain about his future: how many more children will be added?” she said to Donorkind.
Donorkind and the mother are looking for the court to order Meijer to stop donating and for any clinic that has his sperm to destroy it.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Telegraph) (Insider)
U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline
There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.
Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations
A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.
The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.
The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.
The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.
It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.
When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.
Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.
More Ongoing Investigations
Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.
Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.
“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.
The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.
On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.
German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.
The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble
A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.
A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes
The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.
Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.
At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.
Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.
“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.
He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.
“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.
The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.
Rescuers Race Against the Clock
After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.
Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.
In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.
With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.
In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.
The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.