Putin to meet Turkey and Iran leaders to build support. Foot-and-mouth disease still spreading in Indonesia. Dark underside of Uber origin story. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Sri Lankan president flees to Maldives

Sri Lankans this week visit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence in Colombo after it was overrun by anti-government protesters on July 9.
Sri Lankans this week visit President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence in Colombo after it was overrun by anti-government protesters on July 9.
Credit: Arun Sankar / AFP

Great power rivalry 

Ukraine: Russian president Vladimir Putin will travel to Tehran this week to meet with the leaders of Iran and Turkey as he tries to develop new commercial and military partnerships following his falling-out with the West.

The United States said on Monday Putin was looking to Iran to supply Russia with drones that can carry missiles as it continues its advance into eastern Ukraine. Iran’s foreign ministry admitted it was providing Russia with sophisticated weapons but claimed this military co-operation pre-dated the invasion of Ukraine. 

The Kremlin said on Tuesday Putin will hold three-way talks with Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss the conflict in Syria, in which all three countries have been heavily involved. The meeting will follow a trip by US president Joe Biden to the Middle East to meet with the leaders of Iran’s main rivals – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Israel. Biden is hoping oil-rich nations will increase production to counter soaring fuel prices caused by the war in Ukraine.

Russia continued its heavy shelling of the Donetsk region this week as it appeared to prepare for a ground offensive. In one of the deadliest strikes of the war, a Russian missile hit an apartment block last weekend in Chasiv Yar, a town in Donetsk, killing at least 45 people. Separately, the Ukrainian military said a missile strike it launched in the south hit a Russian ammunition depot, killing multiple Russian soldiers. But Russian officials said the missile hit homes and warehouses, killing five people.

On Tuesday, the United Nations said it had recorded 5024 civilian deaths since the Russian invasion began in February, though “actual figures are considerably higher”. It said most of the deaths were caused by artillery, multiple launch rocket systems and missile and air strikes.

The neighbourhood 

Indonesia: Authorities in Indonesia have been struggling to combat a severe outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that has affected at least 317,000 animals. 

The government launched a vaccine program for livestock after the disease was detected in May, but has been unable to prevent it spreading. The outbreak – the first to have occurred in Indonesia since 1986 – has spread to 21 provinces. Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle and sheep but is not harmful to humans.

Indonesia’s dairy production and agricultural exports have dropped during the outbreak, and farmers in some areas have rushed to sell their cattle for reduced prices before they become infected. About 3400 animals have been culled. 

The outbreak occurred in the lead-up to the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha last weekend, when many people in the Muslim-majority nation buy livestock for sacrifice. The period is typically lucrative for farmers, but this year sales have plunged due to concerns about the health of the animals. 

Australia is a major supplier of livestock to Indonesia, which only allows imports from countries that do not have foot-and-mouth disease. Australia’s Agriculture minister, Murray Watt, this week said he will consider imposing additional border checks on travellers returning from Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia to prevent an outbreak in Australia, which could cause losses of as much as $80 billion.

Democracy in retreat 

Sri Lanka: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, fled the country on Tuesday, hours before he was due to resign following mass protests over his and his family’s disastrous economic mismanagement. 

The 73-year-old, who had been in hiding after demonstrators stormed the presidential palace last weekend, fled with his wife on a military jet to the Maldives. The prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who replaced Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda in May, also said he will resign after protesters set fire to his private residence. 

Rajapaksa’s departure marked the end of his family’s ruinous two-decade domination of Sri Lankan politics. Successive Sri Lankan governments, often involving members of the Rajapaksa family, have embarked on ambitious projects to build roads, airports, sports stadiums and other infrastructure using debt that the nation could not repay. The Rajapaksa family and its associates have been accused of widespread corruption and human rights abuses. 

The mishandling of the economy sees Sri Lanka, which has 22 million residents, facing a humanitarian crisis, as a lack of foreign currency reserves has left the government unable to pay for imports and caused shortages of fuel, medicine and essential items. Inflation is soaring, blackouts are frequent, and many residents have been forced to reduce their daily food intake. 

In Colombo, the capital, demonstrators this week had mixed responses to the flight of their former president. “We want to keep him,” a protester, GP Nimal, told BBC News. “We want our money back. And we want to put all the Rajapaksas in an open prison where they can do farm work.”

Spotlight: The Uber leak

On a cold night in Paris in December 2008, two friends who were attending a technology conference could not find a taxi and decided they would invent a smartphone app that could be used to hail taxis. And so, at least according to the origin story that Uber tells about itself on its website, Uber was born. By 2014, the rideshare service was available in 100 cities throughout the world. 

But, according to a massive leak of internal Uber documents this week, Uber’s entry into new markets was not as magical or as seamless as its website suggests. 

The documents reveal how Uber’s moves to undermine existing taxi sectors involved reckless and potentially unlawful conduct by the firm’s top officials, who secretly lobbied governments and flouted regulations. As Nairi Hourdajian, Uber’s head of global communications, wrote to a colleague in 2014 about efforts to shut down the firm in India and Thailand: “Sometimes we have problems because, well, we’re just fucking illegal.” 

This message appeared in a trove of more than 124,000 emails, iMessages, WhatsApp exchanges and internal documents that were leaked to The Guardian. The documents cover 40 countries from the years 2013 to 2017, when Uber was headed by Travis Kalanick, a co-founder who resigned in 2017 following a series of scandals, including concerns about the firm’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” Kalanick said in a statement after a video emerged showing him berating an Uber driver. 

According to the leaked documents, Uber gave high subsidies to drivers as it tried to undercut taxis, lobbied politicians as the taxi sector lashed out, and then cut driver wages after gaining a foothold in new cities. 

In 2016, as Uber drivers were being physically attacked during anti-Uber protests by taxi drivers in France, the firm contemplated holding pro-Uber protests but discussed the risk that this could lead to further unrest. “I think it’s worth it,” Kalanick wrote. “Violence guarantees success.” His spokesperson denied this week that he had proposed that Uber should “take advantage of violence”.

On Monday, Mark MacGann, a former lobbyist for Uber, said he was the source of the leak. “There is no excuse for how the company played with people’s lives,” he said in statement.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 16, 2022 as "Sri Lankan president f lees to Maldives in military jet".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription