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Athaulla: Those responsible for MR’s defeat had a hand in Easter Sunday attacks

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MP A.L.M. Athaulla displays a copy of a letter he sent to the then President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe underscoring the need to do away with the 19th Amendment(Pic courtesy National Congress)

… assures support for 20 A

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Those who had a hand in engineering President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat at the 2015 presidential election were behind the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, National Congress MP A. L. M. Athaulla, told a media briefing at his Thalakotuwa Gardens road residence, Narahenpita yesterday (20).

Digamadulla District MP blamed 2014 organised attacks on Muslims in Aluthgama, Beruwela and Darga Town also on the same group hell bent destabilising the country. Instigating ethnic violence was part of their strategy, a one-time UPFA Minister said, urging all communities to be vigilant of despicable efforts to undermine political stability.

Athaulla said so when The Island asked him whether he subscribed to SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem’s recent declaration that the Easter Sunday attacks had been carried out by another force and not the National Thowheed Jamaat or its leader Zahran Hashim.

One-time Justice Minister Attorney-at-law Haleem alleged that the NTJ had been hired to carry out the operation.

SLMC leader Hakeem made the aforesaid claim on September 7 before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks.

Athaulla said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would ensure a thorough investigation into Easter Sunday attacks. The MP also expressed confidence in the progress made by the PCoI which the National Congress leader said could reveal the truth.

When The Island pointed out that former Deputy Inspector General (DIG) in charge of the Eastern Range Edison Gunatilleke had recently accused Athaulla, former UPFA politician M H M Hisbullah et al of their involvement with extremists and terrorists, a smiling Athaulla said that there was absolutely no basis for such claims. He challenged Gunatilleke to prove his accusations. Athaulla said he didn’t even know Gunatilleke or even remember calling over the phone.

Lawmaker Athaulla questioned why Gunatilleke had waited so long to complain of political interference in police investigations. Declaring that he was among those politicians who received top level security, including bullet proof vehicles due to serious threats to his life, Athaulla denied ever working against the interests of the country.

Asked whether the unsubstantiated accusations had been levelled against him in a bid to deprive him of a possible cabinet portfolio, the National Congress leader replied in the negative.

Responding to a spate of media queries regarding the SLPP not accommodating him in the cabinet, Athaulla emphasized that he never asked for a cabinet portfolio nor would ever request for one.

MP Athaulla said that their responsibility would be to ensure required consensus in parliament to pave the way for the 20th Amendment in place of the 19th Amendment enacted at the onset of the treacherous yahapalana administration in 2015.

At the commencement of the media briefing, MP Athaulla said that the National Congress had backed the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa three conditions. “We asked for the eradication of terrorism. We also sought the demerger of the Eastern Province from the North during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency and those demands were met.”

Athaulla said that the only request yet to be fulfilled was a Constitution that met aspirations of all Sri Lankans.

He said that the National Congress believed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had been the Defence Secretary during the war and the war winning President Mahinda Rahapaksa, now the Prime Minister, would succeed in introducing a new Constitution. Referring to the 19th Amendment, MP Athaulla pointed out that the controversial piece of legislation caused chaos with political parties having to seek intervention of the Supreme Court to ascertain how powers were shared.

When The Island pointed out that even the SLPP hadn’t been able to settle differences among various sections as regards the 19th Amendment, lawmaker Athaulla said that he was confident the Rajapaksas wouldn’t do anything to harm the country. He denied any ambiguity over his party’s support for the 20th Amendment.

The country couldn’t afford to have the President and the Prime Minister from different political parties under any circumstances, the former minister said, warning of dire consequences in foreign interventions in the making of the new constitution.

Referring to the high profile Oslo peace bid in 2002-2003 during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as the Prime Minister, Athaulla insisted that constitutional reforms introduced at the behest of foreign powers wouldn’t address local issues. The former minister said that the country’s strategic location attracted foreign interests therefore the country needed to be cautious.

Reiterating his backing for the 20th Amendment, MP Athaulla urged the government to take tangible measures to introduce a new Constitution. Underscoring the importance of the proposed new Constitution being a Sri Lankan effort, Athaulla recalled how the TNA and the SLMC had facilitated foreign intervention.

The former minister dismissed the Opposition’s claims as regards SLPP bid to do away with independent commissions. Independent commissions weren’t certainly independent, the MP alleged, pointing out that they didn’t do their job.

Athaulla however side-stepped a query regarding the 20th Amendment proposing to abolish restrictions on dual citizens contesting parliamentary polls.

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Majority of 300 luxury vehicles to be released

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… some shipped in without opening LCs, EU wants restrictions abolished

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The majority of the luxury vehicles imported by special permit holders in contravention of the import ban imposed by the government in view of precarious economic situation caused by corona first wave are likely to be released subject to penalties.

Well informed sources said that those vehicles shipped in without even opening LCs would be released. Among the violators were many government servants.

Sources said that vehicles brought in without opening LCs were likely to be confiscated.

“We have categorised over 300 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Audis into two groups. Customs are now in the process of evaluating individual cases,” a high ranking state official said.

The government announced a ban on vehicle imports to arrest the depletion of foreign reserves. Sources acknowledged that at the time the vehicles

arrived in Sri Lanka the second corona wave hadn’t erupted. The situation was far worse now and further deteriorating, they said, adding that the Customs were being inundated with requests for releasing vehicles on sympathetic grounds.

Controversy surrounds the failure on the part of the government to strictly implement the import ban in view of the sharp drop in state revenue due to the pandemic.

Recently, the EU demanded that Sri Lanka immediately lift import ban or face the consequences. The EU issued the warning in talks with government representatives. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena explained the circumstances that compelled the government to impose import restrictions. The EU sought an explanation as to when the ban would be lifted. The Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Gunawardena as having explained to the EU the challenges Sri Lanka economy was facing amidst the dwindling foreign currency reserve situation due to the significant reduction in remittances and tourism revenue induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister said that the import restrictions were being reviewed.

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Nearly 74,000 persons under home quarantine

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Close to 74,000 people belonging to 27,974 families had been placed under home quarantine, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said on Wednesday (25).

He said that the number of cases from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters had increased to 17,436 with 458 persons had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Two wards of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura were temporarily closed on Wednesday after two pregnant women admitted there tested COVID-19 positive.

The two women are from Atalugama, which has been declared an isolated area. During the last few days close to half of the COVID-19 patients detected in Colombo District are from Atalugama.

The two women have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe. The patients and staff in Wards 3 and 4 at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital are now under quarantine. Their family members too have been asked to undergone self-quarantine.

The Police had arrested 61 persons who had violated quarantine laws within the 24 hours that ended at 8 am yesterday, Police spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that they had been arrested for not wearing masks or for not maintaining physical distancing. With those altogether 688 persons had been arrested for violating quarantine laws from October 30, he said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that apart from Welikada, the spread of COVID-19 had been controlled at other prisons. COVID-19 cases had been reported from six prisons, he added.

“We are conducting PCR tests and hope that the situation in Welikada too would be brought under control. Twenty four new cases were detected from prisons on November 24 and from October 04, we have identified 708 cases within the prison system.”

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Severity of impact of second wave on economy could be far worse than anticipated – CBSL

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The impact of the second wave of COVID-19 could be severer on the economic growth than previously anticipated, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara said yesterday (26).

Dr. Amarasekera said so responding to a query by The Island at a CBSL media briefing. The top official said that an assessment couldn’t be made yet as the second wave was continuing.

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