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Battle brews over Sri Lankan Airlines chief

Battle brews over Sri Lankan Airlines chief

The head of Sri Lankan Airlines has received the backing of the company that installed him, despite moves by the Sri Lankan government to have him removed.

   Peter Hill, chief executive of SLA, had his work permit revoked by the Sri Lankan government over concerns that he wasn’t properly looking after the interests of the company or its shareholders, the Web site Indiaaviation.aero reported Friday.

   Hill had been installed by Dubai-based Emirates Airlines, who own a 43 percent stake in SLA and have managed the airline since 1998. But the government, which owns a 51 percent share of the airline, is said to want a bigger say in running the company, the report said. Emirates, meanwhile, backed Hill in a statement in late December, saying he would stay until his contract expires in March.

   A Dec. 20 article in the Times of London suggested that the revoking of the work permit was based on a decision by Hill in mid-December, when he refused to bump 35 passengers on a London-Colombo flight to accommodate Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage.

   “Opponents of Mr. Rajapaksa say that the incident illustrates the increasingly autocratic and arbitrary behavior of the president, who won an election in 2005 promising a harder line against the rebel Tamil Tigers,” the report said. “Since then he has made himself head of the ruling party, the commander in chief and the minister of Finance and of Defense, and he has allocated a ministry to each of his three brothers. (Rajapaksa and his brothers) control more than 70 percent of the Sri Lanka budget, according to local economists.”

   Hill, a British national, has run the airline since 1999.

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