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Sri Lanka’s new PM wins support for ‘economic war cabinet’

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Protestors have been camped outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's residence demanding that he resign
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Sri Lanka’s new prime minister won crucial support from two main opposition parties on Monday, easing the pressure on the ruling Rajapaksa clan in the face of the island’s worsening economic crisis.

But highlighting the dire situation still facing Sri Lanka’s 22 million people, Ranil Wickremesinghe said the country had run out of petrol and that the “next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives”.

“I have no desire to hide the truth and to lie to the public,” Wickremesinghe said in an address to the nation. 

The main opposition SJB party appeared to drop its demands that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should step down before backing a coalition to manage the crumbling economy.

The SJB, or Samagi Jana Balawegaya, declined to join a unity government led by Wickremesinghe, but said it would “unconditionally support the positive efforts to revive the economy”.

“It is important to save the country from the grave economic crisis,” it said in a brief statement.

And the second-largest opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), said it would join the cabinet.

Even so, thousands of protestors remained camped outside the sea-front office of 73-year-old President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose brother Mahinda quit as premier last week after political violence killed at least nine people.

Shortages of food, fuel and medicines, along with record inflation and lengthy blackouts, have brought severe hardships to Sri Lankans, in the worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

Wickremesinghe’s appointment last week — his sixth turn as prime minister — has so far failed to quell public anger at the government for bringing Sri Lanka to the brink of economic collapse.

Troops patrolled the streets as consumers queued up for scarce supplies and the government announced that a six-hour night curfew will be reimposed from Monday after a 24-hour break for a religious holiday.

– Dollar shortage –

Wickremesinghe said on Monday that Sri Lanka had no dollars to finance essential imports with three oil tankers were waiting off Colombo to be paid before they would unload.

He added that the country has run out of 14 essential drugs, including anti-rabies vaccines. The state’s health ministry has not paid its suppliers of medicines for four months and has now been blacklisted, he added.

He also warned that fuel and electricity tariffs will be raised substantially and his government will also sell off its loss-making national airline.

However, he urged people to “patiently bear the next couple of months” and vowed he could overcome the crisis.

– Unity government –

Wickremesinghe has struggled to form a “unity government” and a cabinet swearing-in scheduled for Monday afternoon was pushed back as talks continued on sharing portfolios. 

Four ministers were sworn in on Saturday, all from Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) party.

But there is no finance minister yet, and it is widely expected that Wickremesinghe will retain the crucial portfolio to lead ongoing negotiations with the IMF for an urgent bailout.

The new prime minister held talks Sunday with World Bank and Asian Development Bank representatives in Colombo on medicine, food, fuel and fertiliser supplies, his office said in a statement.

Long queues stretched outside the few fuel stations that were still open on Monday as motorists waited for rationed petrol. 

Heavily armed troops were patrolling the streets with a state of emergency still in effect after at least nine people were killed in violence last week.

Police said over 350 people have been arrested in connection with last week’s mob violence.

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It’s a small world: Disney to fly guests round all 12 parks for $110,000

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"Disney Parks Around The World -- A Private Jet Adventure" will fly 75 mega-fans around the world, with VIP visits to Disney theme parks in cities including Shanghai
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Not sure which Disney resort to visit next summer? 

Disney chiefs have a solution for its most obsessive — and deep-pocketed — fans, offering a round-the-world package trip to all 12 parks, starting at a hefty $110,000 per person.

“Disney Parks Around The World — A Private Jet Adventure” will fly 75 mega-fans around the world in July 2023, with VIP visits to Disney resorts in California, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris and Florida.

Across 24 days, there will also be stops at countries which do not have Disney parks, including tours of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza.

According to its brochure, the “bucket list adventure” also includes a “rare opportunity to be a guest at Summit Skywalker Ranch,” founded by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas outside San Francisco.

“You’ll travel in luxury via a VIP-configured Boeing 757, operated by Icelandair, with long-range capabilities that allows for direct flights to maximize your time in each destination,” it says.

Guests will be joined on board by “experts and staff, who use an audiovisual system for informative briefings and lectures,” while Disney “leaders” and “Imagineers” will be on hand at various points.

As well as the movies, TV shows and theme parks it is best known for, the Walt Disney Company has long offered travel packages, including cruises.

With theme park attendances and tourism more generally recovering from the pandemic, Disney’s latest offering is its most luxurious yet.

The $109,995 per person price tag is based on two people sharing, with those who travel solo facing an additional surcharge of at least $10,995.

No discount is offered for children, who must be at least 12, and airfare to Los Angeles and from Orlando for the first and last legs is excluded.

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Deadly heatwaves threaten economies too

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The drought affecting Italy's longest river, the Po, is the worst in the last 70 years
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More frequent and intense heatwaves are the most deadly form of extreme weather made worse by global warming, with death tolls sometimes in the thousands, but they can also have devastating economic impacts too, experts say. 

The prolonged and unseasonable scorchers gripping the central United States and rolling northward across western Europe, sending the thermometer above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), are likely to cause both.   

Deadly and costly

Very high temperatures caused nearly 10 percent of the two million deaths attributed to extreme weather events from 1970 to 2019, according to the World Meteorological Organization. 

Virtually all that heat-related mortality, moreover, has been since 2000, especially the last decade: from 2010 to 2019 scorching heat was responsible for half of 185,000 extreme weather deaths registered.

In Europe, heatwaves accounted for about 90 percent of weather-related mortality between 1980 and 2022, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has reported. 

Heatwaves rack up economic costs as well, but they are harder to quantify than damage from a storm or flood, and more difficult to insure. 

But extended bouts of great heat can result in more hospital visits, a sharp loss of productivity in construction and agriculture, reduced agricultural yields, and even direct damage to infrastructure. Excess mortality has an economic cost too.

The EAA estimates that heatwaves in 32 European countries between 1980 and 2000 cost 27 to 70 billion euros. The damages over the last 20 years — which included the deadly heatwave of 2003, with 30,000 excess deaths — would almost certainly be higher.

Premature death

The national public health agency in France, which will be blanketed by extreme conditions over the coming days, has called heatwaves “a mostly invisible and underestimated social burden.”  

In France alone, heatwaves from 2015 to 2020 cost 22 to 37 billion euros due to health expenses, loss of well-being and especially “intangible costs stemming from premature deaths”.  

Reduced productivity

The heatwaves of 2003, 2010, 2015 and 2018 in Europe caused damages totalling 0.3 to 0.5 percent of GDP across the continent, and up to two percent of GDP in southern regions, according to a peer-reviewed study in Nature. 

This level of impact could be multiplied by five by 2060 compared to a 1981-2010 baseline without a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and measures to adapt to high temperatures, the study warned.

At sustained temperatures of around 33C or 34C, the average worker “loses 50 percent of his or her work capacity”, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The ICO estimates by 2030 heatwaves could reduce the total number of hours worked globally by more than two percent — equivalent to 80 million fulltime jobs — at a cost of 2.4 trillion dollars, nearly 10 times the figure for 1995.

“Climate change-related heat stress will reduce outdoor physical work capacity on a global scale,” The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its most recent synthesis report, noting that in some tropical regions outdoor work may become impossible by the end of the century for 200 to 250 days each year.

Drought and agriculture

Both heatwaves and drought are a major threat to agriculture, and thus food security.

Long-term drought is agriculture’s worst enemy when it comes to extreme weather, but heatwaves can provoke major damage as well.

In 2019, a heatwave caused a nine percent drop in drop in maize yields across France, and a 10 percent decline in wheat, according to the French agricultural ministry.

A 2012 scorcher in the United States led to a 13 percent drop in maize production, and a sharp jump in global prices.

Heatwaves also have a negative impact on livestock production and on milk production, according to the IPCC.

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RIP Explorer: Microsoft’s web browser retired

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Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser was retired after more than a quarter century on the world's computer screens
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Internet Explorer, Microsoft’s once dominant web browser that some users love to hate, was retired Wednesday after 27 years on the world’s computer screens.

The tech giant will no longer offer fixes or updates to the existing version of Explorer and users will be directed to its replacement, Microsoft Edge.

It was a moment marked with some genuine nostalgia — and plenty of jokes at the expense of what was many people’s first gateway to the internet.

“You took long to download stuff, you kept freezing, and you got replaced pretty easily by other browsers,” tweeted @Zytrux_1, under the hashtag #ripinternetexplorer.

“But there goes one of the first browsers I’ve ever used, and got plenty of good memories thanks to it.”

Twitter was flooded with Explorer memes, including tombstones or coffins bearing the browser’s signature blue “e,” and the occasional screenshot of error messages saying the app had stopped working.

Microsoft announced the change last year, and in a blog post Wednesday explained the need to start fresh with a different browser — Microsoft Edge.

“Internet Explorer (IE) is officially retired and out of support as of today,” the firm wrote.

“The web has evolved and so have browsers. Incremental improvements to Internet Explorer couldn’t match the general improvements to the web at large, so we started fresh,” it added.

– Antitrust battle –

Internet Explorer’s first version came out in 1995, in a challenge to the then rising early internet star Netscape Navigator.

The ubiquity of Microsoft’s operating system became a route also for Explorer to steadily become the default for many users.

In 1997 US authorities contended Microsoft, by incorporating its Internet Explorer in the Windows operating system for the first time, was trying to crush competition from Netscape.

The case was concluded with a settlement in November 2001 that imposed no financial penalty, but forced billionaire Bill Gates’s software giant to disclose more technical information and barred anti-competitive agreements on Microsoft products.

However, users gradually got more alternatives to the browser many loved to hate for its slowness and tech glitches.

Microsoft’s market share in the browser business plunged from more than 90 percent in the 2000s to the low single digits this year.

Google’s Chrome, with nearly 65 percent, is the market leader, according to Statcounter, a web traffic analysis site.

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