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Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina, slamming state with ‘life-threatening’ rainfall

Hurricane Florence continued sweeping across part of the southeastern United States on Friday, making landfall in North Carolina and bringing with it powerful winds along with forecasts warning of “life-threatening” storm surge and rainfall. Collapsed roofs and other structures were already reported in the Morehead City and New Bern areas of North Carolina. New Bern…

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Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina, slamming state with ‘life-threatening’ rainfall

Hurricane Florence continued sweeping across part of the southeastern United States on Friday, making landfall in North Carolina and bringing with it powerful winds along with forecasts warning of “life-threatening” storm surge and rainfall.

Collapsed roofs and other structures were already reported in the Morehead City and New Bern areas of North Carolina. New Bern was particularly hard hit, with reports of more than 100 people stranded in their homes or cars in need of rescue. The large and dangerous storm is expected to keep battering parts of North and South Carolina on Friday. Follow Hurricane Florence’s projected path here.

Key updates: Storm makes landfall | Major flooding and rescues in New Bern | What’s next for Florence


11:31 a.m.: Virginia governor lifts mandatory evacuation orders

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Friday morning lifted mandatory evacuation orders in coastal Virginia. In a statement, his office said the orders were lifted at 10:45 a.m. after the National Hurricane Center lifted the tropical storm warning for that part of the state.

“The imminent threat of coastal flooding and high winds have passed for our coastal communities as Hurricane Florence has made landfall in the Carolinas and we believe it is safe for Virginians to begin returning home,” Northam said in a statement. “We are shifting our focus to the expected inland flooding and damage to Southwest Virginia as Florence turns north this weekend.”

— Mark Berman


11:18 a.m.: A look at flooding in New Bern, N.C.


10:10 a.m.: Water rescue teams prepare for a busy day

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — On Friday morning, the Onslow County swiftboat EMS crew stationed in a government building in Jacksonville received an update from the county’s chief of fire rescue that hurricane-force winds would carry on until 1 p.m. By that point, another two feet of rain will have fallen.

“We’re going to get busy around 1 o’clock, so rest up because we’re probably going to be busy,” Jaime Lozano, the swiftboat team captain, told the crew.

Shortly after, Lozano got a request to help set up a shelter at a nearby high school. As the team assembled its emergency gear and prepared to venture into the storm, it stood by for specific calls to pick up people stranded in their homes in need of evacuation.

It was unclear just how many people needed to be brought to safety. “I imagine if they’re opening up a shelter, it’ll be a lot of trips,” Lozano said.

–Rachel Siegel


9:49 a.m.: “This is only the beginning”

Hours after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina, federal officials stressed that the danger posed by the storm was far from over.

“This is only the beginning,” said Chris Wamsley of the National Weather Service. “We’ve already seen a foot of rain just north of Wilmington area. We’re still expecting rainfall amounts of 20 to 30 inches, some isolated spots of 40 inches.”

Jeff Byard, FEMA associate administrator, echoed this and warned people to expect the slow-moving storm to keep pummeling the Carolinas.

“This is not the end of it,” he said at a briefing Friday morning. “Twenty-four to 36 hours remain of a significant threat from heavy rain, heavy surge, not just in North Carolina but obviously down as we move in to South Carolina.”

Byard urged people who had not heeded evacuation orders to remain in place and try to stay safe. He said federal officials had teams embedded on the state level and described a partnership of multiple government agencies and private businesses prepared and ready to respond.

“We have what we need,” he said. “We have what we need staged throughout the area, both as far as manpower and teams as well as commodities, resources, communications.”

Authorities continued to urge patience and remind people that damage was inevitable as Florence continued its punishing onslaught.

“We have to set those expectations,” Byard said. “This is going to be a duration. Power will be off, infrastructure will be damaged or destroyed, homes will be damaged or destroyed.”

— Mark Berman

[More than 60 years ago, another dangerous hurricane devastated the Carolinas]


9 a.m.: Wilmington sees strongest wind gusts in half a century

The storm may have weakened to a Category 1, but it still packs quite a powerful punch. Wilmington, a city in southeastern North Carolina, was hit with wind gusts of 105 mph on Friday morning, the strongest in a half-century, according to the National Weather Service.

The wind gusts were the most powerful since Hurricane Helen crashed into Wilmington on Sept. 27, 1958, the weather service said.

— Mark Berman




8:46 a.m.: More than 100 rescued in New Bern, governor says

The city of New Bern, N.C., was hit hard by Hurricane Florence overnight, with city officials saying shortly before 2:30 a.m. that about 150 people there were awaiting rescue.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Friday morning that more than 100 people in New Bern have been rescued, “but there’s still more to go,” he said.

“We’re glad to see the sunlight here,” Cooper said in an interview on “Fox and Friends.” He noted that there was still significant work ahead for the state, saying it was “time to move from preparation to determination” as residents and officials alike respond to the storm.

State transportation officials told residents that major roads in the New Bern area were closed and that secondary roads had not been examined due to the conditions, but they said that due to the flooding, “assume roads are impassable.”

— Mark Berman




8:25 a.m.: Florence made landfall. Now what?

Hurricane Florence is battering North Carolina this morning, but the storm has only just begun for the region, reports the Capital Weather Gang:

Beyond Friday’s torrential rain, multi-foot storm surge and widespread power outages, Florence will continue to batter the region through early next week. The storm’s winds are weakening, but some of its most devastating effects may be yet to come.

Through the weekend, the massive storm — containing a zone of tropical-storm-force winds nearly 400 miles wide — will drift inland, engulfing much of South Carolina and southern North Carolina. The National Weather Service says nearly 5 million people could witness at least 10 inches of rain as the slow-moving storm makes slow forward progress.

Head here for more.


8:20 a.m.: Watch Florence make landfall


8 a.m.: More than 400,000 without power in North Carolina

North Carolina state officials reported Friday morning that more than 400,000 customers were facing power outages this morning, a number that is likely to increase as the storm’s winds continue to tear at trees and power lines. Outage maps provided by Duke Energy showed that more than a quarter of them were concentrated in two areas on the state’s coast: one around the Wilmington region, the other around Morehead City.

— Mark Berman




7:39 a.m.: Florence makes landfall in North Carolina

Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., at 7:15 a.m. on Friday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm hit with estimated maximum winds of 90 mph.

In a bulletin Friday morning, the hurricane center reported that the “center of the eye of Hurricane Florence finally makes landfall,” following the storm’s slow, grinding approach to the Southeastern coast.

— Mark Berman


6 a.m.: Florence eyewall is onshore. Center of storm due shortly for landfall near Wilmington, as hundreds of thousands lose power. 

The National Weather Service reports that slow-moving Hurricane Florence is moving onto shore and headed toward Wilmington, N.C. The eyewall of Florence is already onshore, according to the National Hurricane Center, and the storm’s center is currently about 10 miles east of Wilmington and about 80 miles north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Gusts of up to 70 miles per hour have been recorded nearby in Topsail Beach, N.C.

Meanwhile, as many as 321,692 households in North Carolina currently lack power, the state’s emergency management department says.

The already high water levels are expected to rise even higher as the tide comes in, and flash flood warnings continue for Wilmington, Washington, Riverbend, and Vanceboro, N.C.


5 a.m.: Dire warning issued as Florence nears landfall

With Hurricane Florence about to make landfall, the National Hurricane Center predicted only a gradual decrease in the storm’s intensity during the day ahead.

“It cannot be emphasized enough that the most serious hazard associated with slow-moving Florence is extremely heavy rainfall, which will cause disastrous flooding that will be spreading inland through the weekend,” the latest update warned.

As of 5 a.m., the hurricane was turning westward and traveling at a speed of roughly 6 miles per hour. Over the next two to three days, it should gradually turn toward the northwest.

Antonia Farzan


4:45 a.m.:  People stranded on roofs and trapped in cars as eyewall nears coast

After slapping the coast overnight with powerful wind and dumping inches of rain, the outer bands of Hurricane Florence continued to push inland. At 4:00 a.m., the National Weather Service released an update on the storm, noting Florence’s eyewall was beginning to reach the coast.

“The water levels in Pamlico Sound and Emerald Isle remain elevated,” the update noted. “These waters are expected to rise as the tides come back in. A USGA gauge in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, recently recorded 6.6 feet of inundation.”

On the ground, the situation remains serious as floodwaters continued to swallow up residential areas.

The Craven County emergency operations center has received over 100 calls from people who have been trapped in cars or who have water coming into their homes, spokeswoman Amber Parker said. Some area residents are currently trapped on roofs waiting for swift rescue teams to arrive as the area continues to experience extreme flooding, storm surge, and high winds. With a curfew in place until 8 a.m. and many roads in the area closed, people who are experiencing flooding in their homes have little other choice but to wait for help to arrive.



Michael Nelson floats in a boat made from a metal tub and fishing floats after the Neuse River went over its banks and flooded his street in New Bern, N.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

New Bern is the largest city in Craven County and has been experiencing serious flooding, but many of the calls have also been coming in from unincorporated areas of the county, she said. Rescue operations are currently underway.

Parker noted that county officials had offered free transportation to emergency shelters located in Sanford, further inland, and that 107 people had taken the opportunity to get away from the coast. Another 839 people had arrived at shelters located in Craven County by 1 a.m., she said.

The emergency operations center in New Bern where Parker is based experienced some flooding earlier in the night, but only in the lobby area, she said. Emergency operations staff were unaffected, but are expecting to see plenty of damage when the sun comes up.

“Everyone’s certainly hoping for the best, but we do have a more flooding and storm surge ahead of us,” Parker said.

As of 4:19 a.m., National Weather Service stations in Fort Macon and near the New River inlet had both recorded gusts topping 100 mph. ABC reports that over 194,000 people are currently without power.

This is our garage floor. Where all the good junk everybody wants lives. . It’s toast.

Posted by Amy Powell Johnson on Thursday, September 13, 2018

— Kyle Swenson and Antonia Farzan


3 a.m.: Wind gusts of 99 mph 

At 3:00 a.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center released an update on Hurricane Florence showing increased winds battering the North Carolina coast.

According to the latest release, a station at Fort Macon, N.C., recently documented a sustained wind of 73 mph and a wind gust of 99 mph. A station at Cape Lookout, N.C., registered a sustained wind of 75 mph while also notching a gust at 90 mph.

— Kyle Swenson 


3 a.m.: Storm bears down on North Carolina’s second-oldest city  

As wind and water continued to pound the North Carolina coast Friday morning, one of the region’s most historically significant towns took a direct blow from Hurricane Florence.

New Bern, the state’s second-oldest city, sits where the Trent River pours into the Neuse River. That location made the town an important early settlement throughout the colonial period — but also today leaves it open to dangerous weather. Early Friday the city announced emergency crews were already embarking on high water rescues as 150 residents awaited help. As of 2:00 am, a USGS substation located in New Bern measured a water level of nearly 10 feet — double the readings at any surrounding location. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for a swath of coastal North Carolina — including New Bern — until 8:30 am.

The swelling water threatens a significant chunk of local history. According to the city’s website, New Bern has more than 150 sites and 36 individual listings included on the National Registry of Historic Places, including grand houses, churches, and cemeteries.

The first Europeans to bed down in the area were Swiss and Germans led by Baron Christopher de Graffenried in 1710. The baron named the new settled after his home city back in Switzerland. Under British rule, New Bern was made the colony’s capital in 1770.



The Tryon Palace Fife & Drum Corps march at The Glorious Fourth event held at the Tryon Palace historical site in New Bern, N.C., July 4, 2018. (Gray Whitley/ Sun Journal via AP)

The city was also an important chess piece during the Civil War, falling into Union occupation following a battle in 1862. Two years later, the city was the scene of a horrific yellow fever epidemic, according to a history published by the University of North Carolina.

New Bern greatest impact on the global scene was arguably as the birthplace of Pepsi. According to the university’s history, in 1898, a pharmacist named Caleb Bradham created the concoction — known as “Bred’s Drink” — to help stomach digestion. Financial duress forced Bradham to sell off the recipe in 1920.

Now it’s popular and picturesque southern town that draws thousands of tourists.

— Kyle Swenson 


2:30 a.m.: Intense flooding continues in New Bern as 150 people await rescue.

At 2 a.m., Hurricane Florence was located 35 miles east of Wilmington, N.C., with sustained winds reaching up to 90 miles per hour. As the hurricane continued to slowly make its way over the North Carolina coast, it appeared that the town of New Bern was getting the worst of the flooding.

New Bern city officials announced on Twitter that roughly 150 people are currently awaiting rescue. Two out-of-state FEMA teams are currently assisting with the process and others are on the way to help with the emergency response, the statement said.

Currently ~150 awaiting rescue in New Bern. We have 2 out-of-state FEMA teams here for swift water rescue. More are on the way to help us. WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU. You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU. #FlorenceNC

— City of New Bern (@CityofNewBern) September 14, 2018

A gauge in the Trent River near U.S. Highway 70 in New Bern recorded 9.78 feet of inundation, the highest in the region. At Bogue Sound near North Carolina Highway 58 in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, more than 9 inches of rain had fallen in the past 6 hours, and water levels had risen by over 5 feet.

On MSNBC, New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said that as many as 14,000 people in the town currently lack power. There have been “quite a few” water rescues, he said.

Across North Carolina, 185,312 people are currently without power, the state’s department of emergency management said. Carteret, Onslow and Craven counties, which are located on the southeastern coast, have reported the most outages.

In Onslow Bay, waves over 18 feet high were recorded by the National Data Buoy Center.

Earlier in the evening, meteorologists and reporters at NewsChannel 12 in New Bern, North Carolina were evacuated from the station due to rising waters. “When the conditions in the area intensified suddenly, we made the call to have our news staff evacuate the area and team up with our sister station WPDE in Myrtle Beach to continue covering the storm and providing our viewers with vital, potentially life-saving, information,” General Manager Matt Bowman said in a statement.

So that really did just happen. The water started rising and we evacuated almost an entire TV station in about 15 minutes.

— JaimeMcCutcheon-WCTI (@jaimemccutcheon) September 13, 2018

WRAL reporter Adam Owens captured floodwater pouring into the Craven County Emergency Services Building in New Bern, where operations staff and first responders are based during the storm. The emergency operations officials were still operating as normal, he wrote.

‪Flood water is getting into the Craven County Emergency Services Building in New Bern. Despite that, emergency officials are still able to operate inside. #WRAL #Florence #ncwx‬

Posted by WRAL Adam Owens on Thursday, September 13, 2018

— Antonia Farzan


1:20 a.m.:

As Hurricane Florence continues to batter coastal North Carolina, local communities are already reporting rescues as water levels continue to climb. On Facebook, the City of New Bern announced early Friday local police and fire and rescue teams are currently “conducting high water rescues throughout the city.”

The city also announced Trent Park Elementary School is serving as a location for “those needing to get evacuated.”

According to an update from the National Weather Service at 1:00 am, a gauge on the Neuse River at New Bern recently measured 10.1 feet of inundation. The new reading indicates a rise over the course of the night: at 12:00 am, the NWS reported 9.6 feet of inundation at New Bern.

— Kyle Swenson 


12:30 a.m.: Intense flooding threatens the Carolina coast. 

By midnight, areas of coastal North Carolina were experiencing life-threatening storm surge, the National Weather Service said. Multiple flash flood warnings were in place, affecting the cities of Wilmington and Rocky Point as well as communities along the state’s southeastern coast.

Sustained winds of 71 mph and gusts up to 87 mph have been recorded at Cape Lookout, North Carolina. Water levels along the Neuse River in New Bern have risen by nearly 10 feet.

— Antonia Farzan


11 p.m.: Florence downgraded to Category 1 hurricane. 

As residents of the Carolinas hunkered down for the night, the National Hurricane Center continued to warn of life-threatening storm surge and hurricane conditions, but downgraded the storm to a Category 1 hurricane as top winds lessened to 90 mph. Along the Neuse River in Morehead City, North Carolina, storm surge of 10 feet was reported by the National Weather Service. The combination of the storm surge and rainfall up to 20 inches could have disastrous effects on the coastline.

Over 150,000 households in North Carolina have already lost power, according to the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management. Meanwhile, communities along the Pamlico and Pungo Rivers in eastern North Carolina are already experiencing significant flooding, National Weather Service officials said.

— Antonia Farzan

[Track Hurricane Florence here]


More to read:

Nursing homes rush to move the elderly and ill away from the hurricane’s path

City by city forecasts for Hurricane Florence

Shelter in hurricane’s path warns it will euthanize animals if it can’t find people to adopt them

Track Hurricane Florence

Capital Weather Gang’s latest forecast

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A year after Mugabe, hopes for a new Zimbabwe still low

The Azeri Times

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A year after Mugabe, hopes for a new Zimbabwe still low

Harare, Zimbabwe – A year since a trio of army generals held former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe under house arrest as part of a 10-day military operation that enabled his protege, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to take power there are mixed feelings as to how different the proclaimed “new dispensation” is from Mugabe’s autocracy.

In an unprecedented show of support for the de facto coup, on November 18, 2017, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans marched the streets, demanding the veteran ruler step down.

Days later, just moments after a parliamentary impeachment hearing began, the then 93-year-old resigned after nearly four decades in power. But a year since President Mnangagwa’s inception, the hope some citizens had in the liberation fighter nicknamed “the Crocodile” now seems jaded.

Takudzwa Tawenga, 32, a self-employed artisan who participated in a mass anti-Mugabe protest on November 18, 2017, told Al Jazeera he was disappointed by the new regime.

“The day we marched, I really felt like Mnangagwa was the hope of the people, but it seems like the suffering we experienced under Mugabe hasn’t changed.

“It’s like the army just kicked out a dictator so they could enjoy power for themselves. There is nothing for us in this new dispensation,” he said.

Bitterness over the worsening state of the economy and the contentious aftermath of the July polls risks creating a rift between the people, the Crocodile, and the military they once hailed for ousting Mugabe.

Gun between people and the state 

On July 30, millions of Zimbabweans cast their ballots in the first election without Mugabe as a candidate. Mnangagwa won by a narrow and disputed margin of 50.6 percent against his younger rival Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance.

An independent commission of inquiry led by former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe is currently looking into the post-election violence that saw the military deployed onto the streets of the capital.

At least six people were shot dead and dozens more were wounded, but army commander Phillip Valerio Sibanda denied troops killed civilians and said the firing of “warning shots” was constitutional.

“They fired in the air but I do not believe any could have aimed shots at the civilians.

“We would have been very foolish as the defence forces to give orders to the troops to open fire on the civilians with all these people [election observers and foreign journalists] in the country,” Sibanda told the Motlanthe Commission on Monday.

Human rights observers have dismissed the army chief of staff’s testimony. Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera the commander’s claims were false.

“The blatant denials on the documented and video-recorded role of soldiers on 1 August is an insult to Zimbabweans. It is a blatant attempt to hide the truth and sweep things under the carpet,” he said.

Although Mnangagwa initiated the Motlanthe Commission and put a stagnant national peace body into motion in an attempt to chart a different path from Mugabe’s closed authoritarian style, he has struggled to break with the past.

According to Mavhinga the general approach of the security forces in the post-Mugabe era has been one of “arrogance, continued impunity, and lack of sincerity”. 

Despite promises of a new era, the blurred role of the military in state governance and party affairs continues to raise concern.

Piers Pigou, senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera although Mugabe was gone, the system of non-separation of powers between the state, the ruling party and the executive was still in place.

“There is still no effective civilian oversight of Zimbabwe’s military and intelligence community, which both retain in practice partisan loyalties to [ruling] Zanu-PF. Notwithstanding provisions in the constitution setting out non-partisan responsibilities, no significant action has been taken to alter this reality.

“Although there is a new sheriff in town, Mnangagwa, like Mugabe, must navigate around both security sector and ruling party interests,” he said.

But as Mnanagagwa struggles to balance the desires of those who helped him into power with his own, he also grapples with the dilemma of preventing the economy from collapsing. 

Nation on the brink

A recently introduced tax on all electronic transactions above $10 has sparked a wave of price rises in basic commodities such as bread, sugar and cooking oil and spurred fuel shortages.

The two percent levy aroused fears of a return to the hyperinflation era under Mugabe, when the Zimbabwe dollar rapidly devalued and price increases became uncontrollable. 

WATCH: Is Zimbabwe’s new tax generating shortages and uncertainty?

Under a multiple currency regime adopted in 2009, the US dollar is used in daily transactions. However, because of cash shortages a local surrogate currency known as bond notes are more commonly used, but even this is in extremely short supply and of lesser value.

On the black market the coveted US dollar currently trades at an average of US$1: $3,20 although the official rate is 1:1.

For Margaret Moyo, 47, a shopkeeper, keeping up with the price increases has made life difficult.

“I can’t keep up with the cost of things anymore. When I go out to order my goods some suppliers now demand US or they say the price is double if you are paying with bonds.

“This money is worthless, we are back to the Zim [Zimbabwe] dollar days again,” she said.

Despite a public outcry against the rising cost of living and the devaluing of the local surrogate currency, the government is pressing ahead with its reforms to widen the tax base.

President Mnangagwa has urged citizens to grit through a Transitional Stabilization Programme, which is part of his long-term vision to transform Zimbabwe into a middle-income country by 2030.

“[T]here are pains to be borne and sacrifices to be made before things start looking up for the ordinary man in the street.

“We must all gird for belt-tightening measures, leaders and ordinary citizens alike,” he wrote in a Sunday column in the state press. 

Hope in re-engagement

After years of isolation under Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s hope for a lifeline may lie in re-engagement with the international community. However, following the election controversy, the US renewed targeted sanctions urging the post-Mugabe regime to demonstrate greater efforts towards reform.

Pigou told Al Jazeera that Mnangawa’s efforts to change from the authoritarian order of the past will be under close scrutiny if relations with the West are to improve.

“[T]he international community is primarily interested in an economic dispensation that actively promotes fiscal transparency and accountability, and that upholds the rule of law and protection of property rights… With some form of electoral mandate, the months ahead will be crucial for seeing how the Mnangagwa administration translate promises into action,” he said.

Follow Tendai Marima on Twitter and Instagram: @i_amten

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Sri Lanka parliament ‘votes against newly appointed PM Rajapaksa’

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Sri Lanka parliament ‘votes against newly appointed PM Rajapaksa’

Sri Lanka’s parliament passed a no-confidence motion against newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government on Wednesday, opposition lawmakers said, throwing the country deeper into crisis.

The move comes a day after the Supreme Court overturned a presidential decree dissolving the legislature and calling for snap elections.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ruled that a majority of the 225-member assembly supported a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa, 72, who was appointed prime minister on October 26 in place of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

I rule that this House does not have confidence in the government (of Rajapaksa)

Karu Jayasuriya, the Speaker

“The ayes have it,” the Speaker announced over his public address system  “I rule that this House does not have confidence in the government (of Rajapaksa).”

Opposition leader R Sambanthan told Reuters that the motion presented by an opposition party was taken to a voice vote and had the majority support.

Chaotic scenes

Amid chaotic scenes, Rajapaksa, a former controversial president, and his legislator son Namal walked out of the chamber just before the Speaker called for a vote.

Members of Parliament loyal to Rajapaksa attempted to grab the mace, the symbol of authority of the legislature, to disrupt the vote, but Jayasuriya went ahead.

Jayasuriya, the parliament Speaker, has opposed president’s decision to appoint Rajapaksa [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

The result does not automatically mean that Wickremesinghe, whose United National Party (UNP) is the biggest in parliament, has won the constitutional showdown.

President Maithripala Sirisena retains the power to choose the next prime minister.

Sirisena’s October 26 decision has left the South Asian island nation with two prime ministers, with Wickremesinghe holed up in the official residence and refusing to step down.

The UNP had “vehemently” rejected the sacking of the parliament and demanded a House vote to prove that the deposed leader still had the backing of at least 113 legislators.

The United States, European Union and other members of the international community have raised concerns over the crisis.

Only China has recognised the appointment of Rajapaksa, who during his decade as president until 2015 relied heavily on Beijing for diplomatic and financial support.

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40 years on, Khmer Rouge leaders face genocide verdict

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40 years on, Khmer Rouge leaders face genocide verdict

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Vang Tam, 65, is in little doubt over what he would do if he ever encountered the Khmer Rouge responsible for the death of his parents and four siblings in the 1970s.

“Even if I died, I would take his head off. I’d do whatever,” he shouts, dragging on a cigarette inside his floating home on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap river.

“Our ancestors were executed near the mountains, I was the only one not killed.”

Tam is an ethnic Vietnamese fisherman who was born in Cambodia. Like hundreds of thousands of others, he was evacuated to Vietnam soon after the Maoists under Pol Pot took control of Cambodia, but many of his family stayed behind.

When he returned home in 1980, after the Vietnamese had overthrown the Khmer Rouge, he discovered about 40 of his family were dead.

Those who hadn’t been executed had died from overwork or starvation.

On Friday, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), better known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, will hand down its verdict on whether the regime’s “Brother Number Two,” Nuon Chea, 92, and its head of state, Khieu Samphan, 87, committed genocide against ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims, another minority.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan on screen in the media centre at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal [Pring Samrang/Reuters] 

Judges will also rule on whether the two men are guilty of crimes against humanity related to prisons, worksites, forced marriages and sexual violence.

The court sentenced both men to life terms in 2014 for crimes against humanity for their role in the forced evacuation of cities soon after the Khmer Rouge took power.

Accountability

Friday’s decision comes with the tribunal facing widespread criticism for lengthy delays, government interference, and corruption.

While some argue the court has delivered long-awaited justice for victims, others have labelled the process a waste of time and money with convictions against only three people in 12 years.

Opinion was split among Cham and ethnic Vietnamese survivors of the regime interviewed by Al Jazeera. Many know nothing about the tribunal.

Sa Rom Ly, 62, a Cham who managed to survive mass purges in Kampong Cham by pretending he was ethnically Khmer, said he was sure the Khmer Rouge attempted to wipe out his people – something prosecutors have been attempting to prove.

“The Khmer Rouge wanted to get rid of Cham because of our religion,” he said, adding he supported the tribunal.

“We are happy that the ECCC held a trial of the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge because it can help hold them accountable for their actions,” he said.

“They deserve to be punished because they were the ones who ordered the regional chiefs to execute people and they followed their orders. If not, they would be killed too.”

Talking after prayers at a mosque in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district, Kop Math, 64, recounted similar brutality meted out to Chams in Battambang after they had been evacuated from the capital.

“My father sneaked away to pray but they spotted him and took him away to be killed,” said Math, who lost 16 of his 20 close family members.

Math, who visited the tribunal twice during the genocide segment, said he believed the court was delivering true justice to the victims, but he wanted to see more people in the dock.

“I think they should bring regional commanders to justice … but we don’t want the lower levels. If we demand [the lower levels] to be brought to justice this could result in confrontation,” he said.

Kop Math sits outside a mosque in Phnom Penh [George Wright/Al Jazeera]

Looking for justice

Down a winding alley that runs alongside the Mekong River, El Los, 72, explained how he lost all his parents and siblings after being told they had been taken away on a boat and executed in Kampong Cham.

Los said he knew nothing of the tribunal but that all Khmer Rouge, from top to bottom, should be made to pay for their crimes.

“We really want to find justice but where are they? We are suffering but what can we do?” he said. “The lower levels point and say they were following orders – but all should be held accountable.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who helped overthrow Pol Pot after defecting to Vietnam, has been vocal in his opposition to further trials, claiming it could plunge Cambodia back into civil war.

Cambodia’s court upholds Khmer Rouge life sentences

Both Cambodian and international judges sit in the court and both sides have to agree on decisions. Local judges and prosecutors have been accused of being under the influence of the government, especially in ongoing investigations of mid-ranking former Khmer Rouge.

The fact such a small number from the regime have been brought to justice is a common frustration among many Cham survivors, explained Farina So, principal deputy director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia and author of The Hijab of Cambodia.

The Cham researcher said although the tribunal – particularly the genocide case – was important to many Cham, creating public forums for dialogue between victims and perpetrators and their children was vital in helping communities reconcile.

“It’s also effective because you need to get things out of the court and into the community. Then they can discuss openly without fear,” So said.

‘Just a show’

Back on the Tonle Sap river, barely any of the 15 ethnic Vietnamese interviewed said they knew about the tribunal.

“Nobody talks about it. I have no idea what this court is,” said Chroeng Yan, whose father was clubbed to death by a Khmer Rouge soldier.

Vang Tam, one of the few who was aware of the court, was scathing in his analysis.

“It’s just a show, it’s meaningless,” he said.

His friend sitting next to him, Veeng Thhan Yoeng, 65, interjected.

“About 40 of my relatives were killed… I don’t think we can get justice,” he said. “We want to see more on trial.”

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