Major Developments in South Asia, Friday, September 25, 2020

MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS AFFECTING OPERATIONS

1. Tamils in Sri Lanka to protest ban on memorial events. Tamil political parties will participate in a hunger strike tomorrow and have called for a complete shutdown of Tamil areas on September 28. They will protest against the government’s ban to hold a memorial for Tamil Eelam revolutionary Thileepan, who died on September 26, 1987. Several magistrates, at the request of the police, have banned remembrance of Martyr Thileepan who died after a hunger strike. A letter was signed by Tamil National Alliance, Tamil Makkal Thesia Kooddani, and Tamil National People’s Front addressed to President Gothabaya Rajapaksa. They jointly urged him to lift the ban on remembering Tamil Martyrs. However, there was no response from the President for the letter.

Background: Rasaiah Parthipan, commonly known as Thileepan, was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist Tamil militant organization in Sri Lanka.  He became the LTTE’s political leader for Jaffna peninsula. He died while on hunger strike, to secure a five-point charter of demands. This included the setting up of an LTTE-dominated Interim Administrative Council for the Tamil dominated province as part of the India-Sri Lanka Accord. A statue of Thileepan built behind Nallur Kandaswamy Temple was destroyed multiple times in 1996, 2007 and more recently by the army on March 21, 2010.

Assessment: Thileepan memorial events will likely see heightened tensions in Tamil Eelam regions of Sri Lanka. Tamil political parties may continue with the events in spite of a ban by the government. It is likely that Tamil protesters will face arrests for violation of the ban. Clashes between the police and Tamil groups are possible tomorrow. The issues of alleged discrimination against the Sri Lankan Tamils have largely remained unsolved. The re-election of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Party has strengthened Sinhala majoritarianism in the country. The Northern and Eastern Provinces continue to remain highly militarized with 16 of the 19 divisions of the Sri Lankan Army reportedly still stationed there. Routine and random searches are probable in Tamil minority-dominated areas.

Advice: Clients in Sri Lanka, especially in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, are advised to be aware of the political developments. Avoid all protest sites and public gatherings as a precaution. Adhere to the instructions issued by local authorities. Avoid travelling around protest hotspots. Prepare contingency plans for possible disruptions to supply chain, transportation, and business. Monitor advisories and alerts from APAC Assistance for updates.

2. Protests planned in Karachi, Pakistan on September 27. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party has planned to hold demonstrations in Karachi, Sindh on September 27. The protests are scheduled to take place in the Shahrah-e-Quaideen area of the city.  The JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan said that his party plans to launch a series of protests against the incumbent government’s policies from next month. Protest participants aim to denounce controversial economic policies of the government, as well as ongoing power cuts in Karachi, among other issues.

Assessment: The JI has a strong hold in Pakistan’s society, especially in the city of Karachi. The protest may see a large participation despite COVID-19 related restrictions on public gathering. Similar protests in the past have seen large participation. Protest organizers may likely mobilize support ahead of the protest. Opposition parties and its supporters may possibly join the movement to criticize the incumbent government. Authorities are likely to deploy additional security personnel to sensitive locations and along the march. There will be a risk of violence, especially if police personnel employ forceful dispersal tactics. The protest marches will also cause travel disruptions in the vicinity of the protest site. Further protests over these and related issues are likely to be held over the coming months. If protests are carried out, there is possibility of the emergence of a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

Advice: Clients in Pakistan’s Sindh Province, especially in Karachi, are advised to follow the latest political developments. Avoid all protest sites and public gatherings as a precaution. Adhere to the instructions issued by local authorities. Avoid travelling around government buildings, crowded districts and other protest hotspots at the time of the protests. Strictly follow the measures implemented by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Prepare contingency plans for possible disruptions to supply chain, transportation, and business. Monitor advisories and alerts from APAC Assistance for updates.

Clients can contact APAC Assistance (iqueries@apacassistance.com) for a more focused insight on any issues that are critical to operations. An in-depth assessment can be tasked by our membership clients on any issue of concern.
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OTHER MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS

INDIA

1. The Ministry of Civil Aviation amended provisions regarding baggage limit on domestic flights yesterday, giving airline carriers the freedom to decide on it as per their internal policy. Airlines will now be able to reset the domestic check-in baggage limit back to 15 kgs.

2. Houses of 14 Christian families were allegedly vandalized by mob across five villages in Chhattisgarh’s Kondagaon district yesterday. According to witnesses, a mob of around 2,000 people attacked the houses as the ‘Christian families did not follow the local tribal culture’. They also thrashed members of the community in Kakdabeda, Silati and Singanpur on September 22 and 23. A police force was deployed to prevent further escalation.

3. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it is necessary to ensure stability on the ground while India and China work towards ensuring complete disengagement of troops in all friction areas in eastern Ladakh. The MEA spokesperson said that disengagement is a complex process which would require mutually agreed “reciprocal actions”, and the way ahead will be to refrain from making any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo.

4. Several business groups welcomed the contentious and long-delayed labour reforms passed by the parliament this week. The new reforms are aimed at making hiring and firing workers easier and imposing restrictions on trade unions. Meanwhile, the All India Trade Union Congress said it will launch nation-wide protests against the labour code.

5. Indian Railways’ Central Railway zone began operating additional services of Mumbai suburban trains to the existing 355 services from yesterday. Central Railway increased the number of daily special suburban services from 355 to 423 to maintain social distancing and avoid overcrowding.

6. The Communist Party (Marxist) will hold rallies at 1,000 places across Kerala today in protest against the privatization of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited. They are seeking to garner more opposition to the deal.

7. Approximately 30,000 contract and outsourced health workers went on strike yesterday in Karnataka. They demanded job regularization, an increase in salary, and job security.

8. The Election Commission (EC) will likely announce the schedule for the Bihar Legislative Assembly election 2020 today. The EC will hold a press conference in New Delhi at 12:30 PM (local time).

PAKISTAN

9. A fresh travel advisory was issued for international passengers to contain the spread of COVID-19 infections in the country: Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). According to a spokesperson of CAA, the new standard operating procedures will come into force with immediate effect and remain in force till December 31. Passengers shall be required to install the contact tracing ‘Pass Track App’ from the Google Play Store and the Apple Store. Meanwhile, passengers travelling from category B countries require a negative COVID-19 Real-time polymerase chain reaction not older than 96 hours prior to commencement of travel to Pakistan.

10. A low-cost Turkish carrier, Pegasus Airlines, will launch its flight operation to and from Pakistan. The Kurtköy-based airline’s first flight to Pakistan will take off from a Turkey airport today and touch down at Jinnah International Airport, Karachi. Pegasus will operate four flights on the Pakistan-Turkey route in a week.

11. The Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) chief Nawaz Sharif banned members of his party from holding individual, private or delegation-level meetings with the country’s military leadership. Sharif said, if necessitated by national security or constitutional requirements, such meetings in the future will be approved by the party’s leadership and will be made public.

12. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement–Pakistan (MQM-P) staged a protest in Karachi, Sindh yesterday. They demanded that a new province be carved out of the present Sindh province for administrative purposes. MQM-P leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui warned that the party will hold more marches in October and November in order to mobilize masses for the cause.

13. The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) arrested two suspected terrorists during a raid conducted in Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab yesterday. The CTD officials recovered explosive material from their possession. The suspects had allegedly planned to target sensitive installations.

BANGLADESH

14. The government has approved more flights to Saudi Arabia so that Bangladeshi expats working in the country can return. Approximately 35,000 Bangladeshi workers are seeking to reach Saudi Arabia by October 17, which the Saudi government made the deadline for visa and work permits for Bangladeshis. Migrant workers have been gathering at the office of the Saudi Arabian Airlines in Dhaka to secure tickets.

15. Floods were reported in low-lying areas in Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, and Kurigram, yesterday. The Teesta River is flowing above danger levels in some places. Thousands of homes have been flooded.

16. The Bangladesh Bank (BB) fixed the maximum interest rate on spending through banks’ credit cards at 20%, as per a circular issued yesterday. It will go into effect from October 1. Banks cannot charge more than five percent interest on top of the rate for a consumer loan. BB alleges that several banks are violating their regulations and overcharge interest.

SRI LANKA

17. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will hold a virtual summit tomorrow. The two leaders are expected to discuss bilateral relations, including defense and security issues. This is the first virtual summit-level interaction by Prime Minister Rajapaksa with a foreign leader since becoming Prime Minister last month.

18. The owners of the New Diamond supertanker which caught fire with a cargo of two million barrels of oil aboard have agreed to pay USD 1.84 million for Sri Lanka’s help in extinguishing fire. The interim claim is for services provided by the Sri Lankan navy, air force, ports authority and Marine Environment Protection Authority after the fire from September 3 till September 15.

19. The Unemployed Graduates Association held a protest in Colombo yesterday. They demanded the government provide 10,000 jobs that were previously promised. Meanwhile, container drivers at Colombo port went on strike yesterday to protest against inefficiencies in the customs yard.

NEPAL

20. At least 11 people were killed in landslides in Syangja and Palpa Districts yesterday. Meanwhile, landslides disrupted vehicular movement along the Prithvi Highway at more than 15 places. Authorities are conducting relief operations.

21. Authorities reported at least 1,497 new COVID-19 cases in the country yesterday. The highest number was recorded in Kathmandu. Seven districts in the country have more than 500 cases, while six districts have zero active cases.

22. The Cabinet signed an agreement with Israel on September 22 which will pave the way for Nepalis to work in Israel. The first phase of the agreement will provide work to approximately 500 Nepalis, mostly in the nursing sector.

23. Dozens of people gathered to protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu over the alleged encroachment of Nepalese territories by China in the northern Humla district. It is alleged that China has illegally constructed around 11 houses on the Nepalese territory in Lapcha, Humla district.

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