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Sri Lanka crisis: House of Cards in the Indian Ocean

Composite picture showing Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe
Image caption The key players: Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe

What is happening in Sri Lanka right now sits somewhere in between House of Cards, Game of Thrones and Shakespeare's darkest Roman plays. It involves a man who betrayed his leader only now to return him to power, an alleged murder plot, and two men laying claim to a grand white mansion that is a symbol of political power.

Here's what you need to know about the constitutional crisis gripping this island nation,

What set off this crisis?

This is complicated because there have been many twists and turns.

Last week Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena shocked the nation by sacking Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, dissolving the cabinet, and suspending parliament. He said they hadn't been getting on.

The president then - in what many saw as the bigger surprise - appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa, the man he defeated in the 2015 presidential election, as the new PM.

Mr Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka for a crucial period between 2005 and 2015 and oversaw the controversial end of the country's brutal decades-long civil war. His family dominated Sri Lanka while he was in charge - and members of his inner circle were accused of corruption, war crimes and saddling the country with billions of dollars of debt owed to China.

The family deny wrongdoing, and remain popular, especially in rural areas. But India, the EU and the US are not happy to see his return, correspondents say.

To be clear on the extent of this political U-turn by Sri Lanka's president, you have to go back to the 2015 election. Mr Sirisena was accused of betraying Mr Rajapaksa because even though they belonged to the same political party, he teamed up with Ranil Wickremesinghe to defeat him.

Now that relationship has turned sour and Mr Sirisena has turned back to his old ally-turned-rival-turned-ally again.

So, Rajapaksa has taken office?

Not exactly. Mr Wickremesinghe - the man who was sacked - is refusing to leave Temple Trees, the colonial-era bungalow that is the prime minister's official residence.

He says what the president has done is unconstitutional and that he remains the real prime minister. He wants parliament to be convened so MPs can vote on the matter.

But Mr Sirisena has not yet allowed this to happen - and analysts say that's because he knows no majority yet exists that would endorse Mr Rajapaksa as PM. The Sirisena-Rajapaksa alliance is however trying to turn Wickremesinghe loyalists over to their side with ministries and other concessions.

However the wheels of government have not stopped turning amid this crisis - Mr Rajapaksa has begun work and sworn in a cabinet. He, not Mr Wickremesinghe, is listed as prime minister on the official government website.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Mr Rajapaksa has immediately presented himself as the legitimate prime minister

Why are people worried?

The situation is tense and there has already been one deadly confrontation.

Mr Wickremesinghe's supporters have formed a protective crowd at Temple Trees - and Buddhist monks have also been called there to chant prayers, in a possible bid to deter police from using force to remove the sacked PM.

A parliamentary vote could defuse the crisis - but even then, supporters from the losing side could take to the streets in anger.

What are the roots of the saga?

It depends on who you talk to.

In a long address to the nation over the weekend, President Sirisena said tensions had been building up between him and his PM for years. He called Mr Wickremesinghe both arrogant and stubborn.

He has also linked him to a controversial central bank bond sale, which is alleged to have led to the loss of 11bn Sri Lankan rupees ($65m; £50m). The president also alleged that a cabinet minister was involved in a plot to kill him and that police had obstructed an investigation.

However, if you were to talk to Mr Wickremesinghe, he would say the roots of this crisis lie entirely in what he sees as the illegitimate actions of Mr Sirisena.

It's true that many analysts say that the coalition government the two formed was likely to collapse because of the fractured relationship.

But the way it happened has taken many by surprise.

Image copyrightEPA
Image caption Supporters of Mr Wickremesinghe have been gathering outside the official residence he is refusing to leave

So is it even legal?

A number of constitutional experts have said the sacking of Mr Wickremesinghe is not legal. Under the constitution, as amended three years ago, the president does not have the power to remove the prime minister, says constitutional expert Dr Nihal Jayawickrama.

In fact under the 19th Amendment, almost all of the president's executive powers were taken away, he says. This amendment was introduced by both Mr Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe.

According to Mr Jayawickrama "only parliament can constitutionally remove a prime minister".

There is a provision that the person most likely to command the confidence of parliament should be named as prime minister, but Mr Wickremesinghe is the leader of the largest party and easily won a no confidence motion earlier this year.

The president has cited a part of the constitution that allows him to appoint a prime minister as the basis for his removal of Mr Wickremesinghe - but some constitutional experts have cast doubt on the validity of that argument.

Skip Twitter post by @MaithripalaS

I had a very successful telephone conversation with UN Secretary General H.E. António Guterres last evening. I assured him that the appointment of the new Prime Minister has been done in keeping with the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

— Maithripala Sirisena (@MaithripalaS) November 2, 2018

End of Twitter post by @MaithripalaS

What is the context?

Sri Lanka is a country that spent decades sunk in a brutal and bloody civil war between the government and the separatist Tamil Tigers, which ended with accusations of human rights atrocities on both sides. Mahinda Rajapaksa was in charge when many accused the government of killing thousands of civilians hemmed into a thin strip of land at the end of the war - the army always denied this.

Eventually the country once again became a top tourist destination and achieved the semblance of stability - but this unprecedented crisis puts that reputation at risk.

The EU has already threatened to stop Sri Lanka's lucrative duty-free trade access to the world's biggest single market if it rows back on commitments to human rights and reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities.

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New Caledonia: French Pacific territory votes on independence

An activist holds the pro-independence flag in Noumea, on the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, on October 30, 2018Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption Separatist groups are urging the indigenous Kanak people to back independence

Voters in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia are taking part in a referendum on whether to remain part of France or become independent.

The vote was promised as part of a deal two decades ago after a violent campaign by separatists from the indigenous Kanak people.

Pro-independence groups have urged Kanak voters to throw off the "shackles of colonial authorities" in Paris.

However, polls suggest a majority of voters will reject independence.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe New Caledonia referendum is the climax of 30 years of peace

About 175,000 people are eligible to vote in the territory, east of Australia, but Kanaks make up less than 50% of the electorate.

French nationalism is strong among the territory's ethnic Europeans and observers say even some Kanaks back staying part of France.

The remote islands receive about €1.3bn (£1.1bn; $1.5bn) from the French government every year.

New Caledonia has large deposits of nickel, a vital component in manufacturing electronics, and is seen by France as a strategic political and economic asset in the region.

Image copyrightGetty Images
Image caption French President Emmanuel Macron visited the islands in May

French President Emmanuel Macron is due to give a televised address following the results which are expected at 23:00 local time (12:00 GMT).

During a visit to the capital, Nouméa, in May, he said that France would be "less beautiful without New Caledonia".

Voters going to the polls on Sunday are being asked the question: "Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?"

Under the terms of the 1998 deal, in the event of a "no" vote, two further referendums on independence can still be held before 2022.

If there is a "yes" vote it will be the first French territory to break away since Djibouti (1977) and Vanuatu (1980).

New Caledonia is represented in the French parliament by two deputies and two senators.

It has a congress which elects an executive with powers over some policy areas - notably policing, education and local laws.

France first claimed the islands in 1853 and once used them as a penal colony.

In the 1980s there were clashes between French forces and indigenous Kanaks.

The climax of that conflict came when Kanak separatists held a group of French gendarmes hostage in a cave. The French assault cost the lives of 19 Kanaks and two soldiers.

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Asia Bibi blasphemy case: Husband pleads for asylum

Protesters demonstrate against Asia Bibi's acquittal, holding a poster showing a noose around her neck, 2 November 2018Image copyrightEPA
Image caption Many called for the death penalty to be reinstated following Asia Bibi's acquittal

The husband of a Pakistani Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after eight years on death row has pleaded for asylum from the UK, US or Canada.

Asia Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, said they were in great danger in Pakistan.

The Supreme Court overturned Asia Bibi's conviction on Wednesday, saying the case against her was based on flimsy evidence.

Her acquittal sparked violent protests, and the government has now agreed to try to stop her leaving the country.

On Saturday, her lawyer, Saif Mulook, fled Pakistan, saying he feared for his life.

Asia Noreen - commonly known as Asia Bibi - was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a row with neighbours.

Several countries have offered her asylum.

What does her husband say?

In a video message, Mr Masih said he feared for his family's safety.

"I am requesting the prime minister of the UK help us and as far as possible grant us freedom," he said.

He also called on Canadian and US leaders for help.

Image copyrightAFP
Image caption Asia Bibi's husband and daughter say they fear for their safety

Earlier, in an interview with German broadcaster DW, he said he and his family were "frightened" after Pakistan's authorities struck a deal with the hardline Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP) party in order to end protests over Asia Bibi's acquittal.

As part of the agreement, officials will start proceedings to bar her from leaving the country.

The government will also not prevent protesters legally challenging the Supreme Court decision to release her.

"The agreement has sent a shiver down my spine," Mr Masih told DW. "It is wrong to set a precedent in which you pile pressure onto the judiciary."

"The current situation is very dangerous for us. We have no security and are hiding here and there, frequently changing our location."

He added: "My wife, Asia Bibi, has already suffered greatly. She has spent 10 years in jail. My daughters were dying to see her free, but now this review petition will prolong her plight."

UK MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament, said he had asked the Home Office for an "urgent evaluation of the situation", the Guardian reported.

Skip Twitter post by @TomTugendhat

Violence against minorities is unacceptable. The treatment of Asia Bibi is vile. @ImranKhanPTI has a decision to make: will he stand for the rule of law or mob rule? Time for leadership, Imran. #AsiaBibiCase#Pakistan

— Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) November 3, 2018

End of Twitter post by @TomTugendhat

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Information Minister Fawad Chaudry told the BBC that security had been "beefed up" to protect Asia Bibi.

"Yes, there is a situation and we are dealing with it, but I assure you that her life is not in danger," he told the BBC's Newshour programme.

He described the government's deal with the protesters as "firefighting", saying it helped to "resolve the situation without resorting to violence".

What was Asia Bibi accused of?

The trial stems from an argument Asia Bibi had with a group of women in June 2009.

They were harvesting fruit when a row broke out about a bucket of water. The women said that because she had used a cup, they could no longer touch it, as her faith had made it unclean.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAsia Bibi's escape from Pakistan death row

Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.

She was later beaten up at her home, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. She was arrested after a police investigation.

In Wednesday's ruling, the Supreme Court said that the case was based on unreliable evidence and her confession was delivered in front of a crowd "threatening to kill her".

Why is this case so divisive?

Islam is Pakistan's national religion and underpins its legal system. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong.

Hard-line politicians have often backed severe punishments, partly as a way of shoring up their support base.

But critics say the laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on thin evidence.

The vast majority of those convicted are Muslims or members of the Ahmadi community, but since the 1990s scores of Christians have been convicted. They make up just 1.6% of the population.

The Christian community has been targeted by numerous attacks in recent years, leaving many feeling vulnerable to a climate of intolerance.

Since 1990, at least 65 people have reportedly been killed in Pakistan over claims of blasphemy.

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Leicester City players fly to owner’s funeral in Thailand

Relatives attend a procession with royal soldiers for the funeral of Vichai SrivaddhanaprabhaImage copyrightReuters
Image caption Relatives took part in a procession with royal soldiers ahead of the funeral

The funeral of Leicester City's owner who died in a helicopter crash outside the club's stadium is under way.

Royal soldiers, monks and Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's relatives took part in a procession ahead of the ceremony at a temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

The funeral began with Buddhist bathing rituals and will be followed by recitation ceremonies over seven days.

The Leicester City players are due to fly out to Thailand for the funeral after their game against Cardiff later.

Thai billionaire Mr Vichai died along with two members of his staff, the pilot and a passenger when the helicopter came down in a car park moments after taking off from the King Power Stadium on 27 October.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Royal soldiers in Mr Vichai's funeral procession
Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Monks were also involved in the procession in Bangkok

A bathing rite ceremony has started which will be followed by the beginning of the recitation ceremonies.

Jonathan Head, the BBC's South East Asia correspondent, is at the temple and said the ceremony was being held behind closed doors.

There was no definitive start to the ceremony, he said, but close friends and relatives would arrive over the next few hours.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Mourners could be seen through a glass door at Mr Vichai's funeral
Image copyrightReuters
Image caption A special funeral urn and a five-tiered umbrella, that is very high status, is being used

Mr Head said elements of status at the funeral were very important.

"You will see during the funeral artefacts given by King Vajiralongkorn - a special funeral urn and also a five-tiered umbrella that is very high status - being used," he said.

He added: "People will watch the funeral in many ways to see how well thought of Vichai was.

"He was a successful businessman, but sometimes controversial."

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption The funeral procession outside Wat Thep Sirin Thrawat temple
Image copyrightAFP/Getty Images
Image caption Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha bought Leicester City in 2010

Mr Vichai's body arrived in Thailand on Friday ahead of the funeral.

Nusara Suknamai, Kaveporn Punpare, pilot Eric Swaffer and his partner, Izabela Roza Lechowicz, also died in the crash last Saturday.

The wreckage of the helicopter was removed from outside the stadium on Friday.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has begun examining parts of the helicopter and the in-flight recorder.

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Mourners gathered in front of the temple before the funeral
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Pakistan: ‘Father of Taliban’ cleric buried after attack

Supporters of Maulana Sami ul-Haq attend his funeral in Akora Khattak, Pakistan. Photo: 3 November 2018Image copyrightEPA
Image caption Maulana Sami ul-Haq's supporters attend the funeral prayers in Akora Khattak

Thousands of people have gathered for the funeral of Pakistani cleric Maulana Sami ul-Haq, known as the Father of the Taliban, who was killed on Friday.

Reports say a bomb disposal unit cleared the graveyard before Haq was buried in his home town of Akora Khattak, north-west of Islamabad.

Haq was the head of the Haqqania madrassa, where many Taliban members - including the group's founder, Mullah Omar - had studied.

The motive for the killing is unclear.

In a statement, the Afghan Taliban said his death was "a great loss for the entire Islamic ummah [community]".

Image copyrightReuters
Image caption Police and security personnel stand guard as people gather for Haq's funeral on Saturday

What is known about Friday's attack?

There are conflicting reports of exactly how Haq was killed.

The cleric's son said his father was stabbed "multiple times" in the house he owned in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

Image copyrightAFP/Getty Images
Image caption Maulana Sami ul-Haq was an influential figure in Pakistan

"He was resting in his room during Asr time when his driver-cum-guard went out for 15 minutes," Maulana Hamid ul-Haq was quoted as saying by Pakistan's Geo TV.

"When he returned, he found Maulana Sami ul-Haq dead in his bed and his body covered in blood."

Meanwhile, Haq's nephew Mohammad Bilal told Reuters his uncle was found with stabbing and gunshot wounds in his house on Islamabad's outskirts.

No group has so far admitted to being behind the attack.

Violence fears

Afghan officials had recently asked the cleric, believed to have been in his 80s, to help convince the Taliban to begin peace negotiations.

Image copyrightAFP/Getty Images
Image caption The funeral was held amid heavy security

He was a former senator who ran a faction of the religious Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party - and was close to Prime Minister Imran Khan's PTI party.

Mr Khan is currently on an official visit to Beijing, but his office said in a statement that he condemned the killing and had ordered an investigation.

The cleric's death comes at a time of turmoil in Pakistan, where protests have broken out in a number of cities after the acquittal of a Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges.

Haq had thousands of followers among his students, as well as Afghan and local Taliban members. The BBC's M. Ilyas Khan says there are fears that his killing may cause further trouble on the streets.

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