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Sri Lankan PM agrees to quit amid biggest political turmoil



COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s prime minister agreed to resign on Saturday after party leaders in Parliament demanded both he and the embattled president step down on the day protesters stormed the president’s residence and office in a fury over a worsening economic crisis.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a voice statement that he will resign when all parties have agreed on a new government.

“Today in this country we have a fuel crisis, a food shortage, we have the head of the World Food Program coming here and we have several matters to discuss with the IMF. Therefore, if this government leaves there should be another government,” he said.

His decision came after the biggest protest yet swept Sri Lanka as tens of thousands of people broke through barricades and entered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence and nearby office to vent their anger against a leader they hold responsible for the nation’s worst crisis.

Footage showed people in a jubilant mood taking a dip in the garden pool of the residence. Some lay on beds, others made tea and drank, and made “statements” from the conference room that Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe must immediately quit.

Wickremesinghe said he suggested to the president to have an all-party government, but didn’t say anything about Rajapaksa’s whereabouts. Opposition parties in Parliament were currently discussing the formation of a new government.

Rajapaksa appointed Wickremesinghe as prime minister in May in the hope that the career politician would use his diplomacy and contacts to resuscitate a collapsed economy. But people’s patience wore thin as shortages of fuel, medicine and cooking gas only increased and oil reserves ran dry.

Many protesters accuse Wickremesinghe of trying to save Rajapaksa when he came under pressure to resign and every other member of his powerful political dynasty quit the Cabinet.

Later Saturday evening, protesters moved near Wickremesinghe’s home in a bid to force him to quit immediately.

Privately-owned Sirasa Television reported that at least six of their staff members including four reporters were hospitalized after they were beaten by police while covering the protest near Wickremesinghe’s home.

Sri Lanka Medical Council, the country’s top professional body, warned that the country’s hospitals were running with minimum resources and will not be able to handle any mass casualties from the unrest.

The association said that the president, prime minister and the government would be held responsible if people died or were maimed. It urged the leaders to heed the cry of the people, resign and hand over the reins to an all-party government.

It was not clear if Rajapaksa was inside his residence when it was stormed earlier Saturday. A government spokesman, Mohan Samaranayake, said he had no information about his movements.

Leaders of political parties in Parliament met later and decided to request Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe to step down, opposition lawmaker Rauff Hakeem said on Twitter. He said a consensus was reached that the parliamentary speaker should take over as temporary president and work on an interim government.

Sri Lanka’s economy is in a state of collapse, relying on aid from India and other countries as its leaders try to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. The economic meltdown has led to severe shortages of essential items, leaving people struggling to buy food, fuel and other necessities.

The turmoil has led to months of protests, which have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.

The president’s older brother resigned as prime minister in May after violent protests saw him seek safety at a naval base. Much of the public ire has been pointed at the Rajapaksa family, with protesters blaming them for dragging Sri Lanka into chaos with poor management and allegations of corruption.

At the president’s office, security personnel tried to stop demonstrators who pushed through fences to run across the lawns and inside the colonial-era building.

At least 34 people including two police officers were wounded in scuffles as protesters tried to enter the residence. Two of the injured are in critical condition while others sustained minor injuries, said an official at the Colombo National Hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Thousands of protesters entered the capital from the suburbs after police lifted an overnight curfew. With fuel supplies scarce, many crowded onto buses and trains to come to the city to protest, while others made their way on bicycles and on foot.

Protest and religious leaders called on Rajapaksa to step down, saying he has lost the people’s mandate.

“His claim that he was voted in by the Sinhala Buddhists is not valid now,” said Ven. Omalpe Sobitha, a prominent Buddhist leader. He urged Parliament to convene immediately to select an interim president but said that Wickremesinghe did not enjoy the people’s support.

Last month, Wickremesinghe said the country’s economy has collapsed. He said that the negotiations with the IMF have been complex because Sri Lanka was now a bankrupt state.

In April, Sri Lanka announced it is suspending repaying foreign loans due to a foreign currency shortage. Its total foreign debt amounts to $51 billion of which it must repay $28 billion by the end of 2027.

Police had imposed a curfew in Colombo and several other main urban areas on Friday night but withdrew it Saturday morning amid objections by lawyers and opposition politicians who called it illegal.

U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday asked people to protest peacefully and called for the military and police “to grant peaceful protesters the space and security to do so.”

“Chaos & force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now,” Chung said in a tweet.


Associated Press writers Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Krutika Pathi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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‘We are living in hell.’ N.J. city’s toxic cop culture ignites residents’ fury




In Paterson, most of the 400 police officers sworn to serve and protect the “Silk City” are Black or brown, like its nearly 150,000 residents.

Still, fear and distrust of the police run deep.

And residents and community activists say that gap is widening in a city where at least 12 cops have been criminally charged for misconduct in four years, and officials have paid $2 million to settle 16 civil rights lawsuits filed against police in the last three.

“It’s this way because [Paterson officers] are criminals themselves,” said resident Bonnie Gonzalez, 27, as she shopped recently in a local beauty store. “How can you focus on fixing the problem when you are the issue?

Rally in Paterson for Jameek Lowery

Protesters gather for justice in the death of Paterson resident Jameek Lowery during a rally at City Hall on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019.

Lowery, 27, died at a hospital two days after he went to the Paterson Police Department seeking help while high on drugs. His family has long claimed that police used excessive force against him.

Chris Monroe | For NJ Advance MediaChris Monroe | For NJ Advance Me

Criminal justice experts have long urged departments to hire officers who mirror the communities they serve, saying they can better relate to residents, understand cultural norms and bring an essential perspective to policing. But Paterson residents say officers’ race and ethnicity mean little.

“We are living in hell,” said Monique James-Lowery, 42, whose nephew, Jameek Lowery, died two days after seeking help from Paterson police in 2019. “The officers here only worry themselves about the color blue.”

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, police director Jerry Speziale and the nine city council members did not respond to requests for comment.

But experts say hiring diverse officers is only part of the answer to better policing marginalized communities.

“It’s one step to a two-prong solution,” said Henry Smart III, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Two, it is the quality of the representation. Representation is not just quotas.”

Thomas Shea, a former Long Branch cop and director of Seton Hall University’s law enforcement executive leadership program, agreed.

“It really depends on the quality of your officers and, more importantly, the culture of your police department,” Shea said.

That wasn’t missed by U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden, who recently oversaw a high-profile Paterson police corruption case. In sentencing one of six cops convicted in the probe, she hypothesized that the culture of an iHop restaurant, where he had found work, is “1,000% better than anything in the Paterson police department.”

To date, police have come under scrutiny for controversial fatal shootings of residents like Thelonious McKnight who was killed Dec. 29 while fleeing police, igniting community outrage and demands for reform. Tensions flared this year over the police beating of a teen during a Back-to-School block party and an encounter with 41-year-old Felix DeJesus, who went missing on Feb. 2 after officers detained him and then left him in a park at night in near-freezing temperatures.

In the fall, four former officers — Eudy Ramos, Jonathan Bustios, Frank Toledo and Daniel Pent — and their ex-sergeant Michael Cheff were sentenced to federal prison by Hayden for illegally stopping and searching people of color, stealing their cash and falsifying police reports between 2016 and 2018. A sixth officer, Matthew Torres, received probation.

‘Everything we do is illegal’

Their court proceedings offered a window into the department’s culture.

One ex-officer estimated the group, known as the robbery squad, lied or omitted information in approximately 75% of its police reports for drug arrests.

“Everything we do is illegal,” Toledo, 33, wrote in a text message to Bustios in 2017.

At his September sentencing, Bustios, 33, told the court that it “didn’t feel like we were doing anything wrong.”

“There was a thin blue line of silence,” he said. “That was the way of the department.”

At his sentencing, Toledo said the department “did not support or value” its officers and that its negative culture influenced him. He acknowledged he was a reason people in Paterson didn’t trust the police.

“During the time of great tension between law enforcement and society, I did things that furthered that gap and made people lose more trust in police, and for that, I’m sorry,” he said.

Torres, another of the convicted officers, dreamt as a child of becoming a police chief. He could not have been “more excited…to protect and serve the community” when he joined Paterson’s police department in 2014, his attorney said.

But Torres, 33, said the department didn’t provide resources or additional training for officers who wanted to do good. And by his second year on the job, he was running with the “robbery squad.”

When he eventually tried to expose the wrongdoing, he was suspended.

“He was drawn into a particular culture that apparently was in existence there. He didn’t create the culture,“ said John Whipple, Torres’ attorney. “But he participated in it. First, reluctantly and then more affirmatively.”

Torres received three years of probation. He told the judge he was finally at peace for “shedding a light on the corruption in Paterson.”

“It needed to happen, and it should have happened a long time ago,” he said.

Culture molding cop behavior

Representative bureaucracy is the idea that institutions should demographically reflect the communities they serve. And police departments in major cities like Baltimore and Los Angeles have bought in and diversified their ranks. Still, like in Paterson, cultures of corruption have led to deep mistrust within the communities they patrol.

In Paterson, 50% of the officers are Hispanic, 38% white and 12% Black, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The city’s racial makeup is around 61% Hispanic, 25% Black and 8% white.

But former Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay said prospective officers’ backgrounds and attitudes are “pretty weak indicators of how they will actually behave.”

“The culture of the department will have the greatest impact in molding the officer, and they will begin to become thinking, feeling members of that organizational culture,” he said.

McLay, who works with the Center for Policing Equity, a California think tank, noted that policing has often criminalized and over-policed marginalized communities.

“When the systems that are in place cause police to act in burdensome ways for Black and brown communities, these officers, even if it doesn’t align with their personal value systems, are going to behave in manners that still cause those harms, either because the job itself requires it … or simply a matter of one becoming socialized into that organization group,” said.

Michael Mitchell, a professor of criminology and African American studies at The College of New Jersey, said, “the issues are structural and institutional.”

“The Paterson police officers are a part of an institution that is racist and classist,” said Mitchell, a former police officer in Texas. “Speaking as an ex-police officer, they are trained in a very aggressive way.”

‘Honest dialogue is the key’

Paterson residents say cops don’t see the city’s beauty and aren’t doing the best job.

“The officers don’t love this community,” said Carol Jones, a service worker and lifelong Paterson resident. “If they were more hands-on and didn’t approach us in a threatening manner, maybe things would be different.”

Community leaders said improving relations will involve a joint effort between the community and the police department.

“Honest dialogue and open communication is the key,” said the Rev. Kenneth Clayton, president of the Paterson chapter of the NAACP.

“If both sides have a disconnect and point the blame at each other, nothing is going to be solved,” he added. “We need each other.”

Staff writer Joe Atmonavage contributed to this report.

Thank you for relying on us to provide the local news you can trust. Please consider supporting with a voluntary subscription.

Deion Johnson may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @DeionRJohhnson.

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Madras High Court shocked to learn about corruption cases pending trial since 1983




Shocked to learn that 1,635 corruption cases booked between 1983 and 2021 are pending trial in just 14 districts under the north range of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC), the Madras High Court has said the trial courts as well as the police must work together to ensure a speedy trial in such cases than indulge in a blame game.

Justice S.M. Subramaniam wrote, “If corruption cases are kept pending for years together, then, there is no possibility of controlling corrupt practices among public servants. The offenders will get an encouragement that they can escape from the clutches of law. Practical and pragmatic approach is required for the purpose of solving the problem.”

Taking note of a complaint made by the DVAC that the trial proceedings were not being conducted on a day-to-day basis because of which the agency find it difficult to produce the witnesses, the judge said that once the trial commences, it must be concluded at the earliest without any long adjournments.

“There is a current trend in the courts where parties seek adjournments for forum hunting, for harassing the other parties and to achieve their goals in an indirect manner. At the outset, various trickery methods are adopted by the parties to get adjournments in order to evade the proceedings or prolong the litigation,” the judge said.

Dealing with a corruption case pending for the last 22 years, he went on to state, “A few legal brains and ill-natured litigants are attempting to adopt such delaying tactics by finding out certain loopholes in the judicial system. Such ideas or intention of the parties, at no circumstances, be encouraged by the courts.”

The data obtained by the judge from the Superintendent of Police, DVAC (north range), revealed that 1,153 corruption cases booked between 2011 and 2021; 421 cases booked between 2001 and 2010; 54 between 1991 and 2000; and seven registered between 1983 and 1990 were still pending trial.

The number of such cases were more even in Chennai (128), Coimbatore (80), Salem (83), Tiruchi (112) and Madurai (56), which had special courts to deal with cases booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The judge termed such a delay in completing trial in corruption cases as extremely unfortunate. “If trial is allowed to go on in this manner in corruption cases, this court is afraid that all these cases will end in vain without any fruitful results. The very purpose and object of the Prevention of Corruption Act will be defeated,” he said, underscoring the need for the DVAC as well as the trial court to ensure a speedy trial.

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Malawi's Vice-President Saulos Chilima charged with corruption – BBC




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