Sri Lanka reopens border with India

Sri Lanka has partially re-opened its international border with India to international visitors, a day after its president, Maithripala Sirisena, ordered a nationwide indefinite strike to put pressure on the incumbent leader to rescind controversial land deals.

The ban came as Sirisena increased his political pressure on the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, by cancelling Wickremesinghe’s appointment as chairman of an intelligence agency tasked with counter-terrorism. Sirisena, who swept to power in 2015 on a liberal ticket, has accused Wickremesinghe of failing to combat corruption within his government.

Wickremesinghe sacked the entire cabinet, his finance minister and deputy in January, replacing them with ministers loyal to Sirisena. On Monday he announced another round of dismissals, paving the way for civil servants to be removed from their posts, as well as the curtailing of travel by the prime minister’s senior cabinet members.

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Authorities at the Colombo-Chennai port, which links Sri Lanka to India, have reopened the crossing for immediate entry and exit of international visitors. The port, where Sri Lanka’s southern port city of Galle is located, remains closed to all traffic, and officials have said the crossing would remain shut for the time being.

Sri Lanka operates two international border crossings with India, one of which has long been shut to traffic. There was no official confirmation of why the border was partially re-opened, but the country’s island-wide strike is believed to have been largely a protest against the relocation of a hospital that Sirisena said it was necessary to relocate from central Colombo, a move that was opposed by residents.

If the government goes ahead with its plans to relocate the hospital, its relocation has created widespread opposition to the construction of new homes in the area. The building of the hospital is considered a key victory by Sirisena’s Democratic National Alliance, which swept to power in 2015 as the voice of tens of thousands of Tamils who have suffered decades of discrimination under Colombo’s minority government, or the Tamil Tigers who fought a civil war from 1983 to 2009.

The 2019 vote followed an improvement in Sri Lanka’s security situation, with a recent peace accord with the Tamil Tigers ending years of violence that had cost thousands of lives.

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