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Buddhists can never be racists, says Karu



Buddhists could never be racists, former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said on Wednesday. He said so speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Coalition for National and Religious Reconciliation.

Given below is his speech in full: “I am pleased to say that representatives of all religions and ethnicities, including the Maha Sangha are gathered here today. It is the wish of every Sri Lankan to live in a country that respects liberty, national and religious unity within a democratic framework. This is the stand we must pass on to our future generation.

“Sri Lanka, which was a prosperous country prior to its independence, deteriorated rapidly thereafter. Our country had to face failed military coups, youth unrest and a civil war. We are a divided nation today.

“Our objective is to bring an end to this unfortunate situation. Our ethnicity and religion are not something we can claim. It depends on a number of factors including our place of birth and our parental heritage. Buddhists in particular can never be racists. In the Vassettha Sutta, the Buddha stated that mankind is one race.

“Then we must respect the noble truth of Buddha’s teachings. If there are people who hold racist views, the Maha Sangha should educate them. Is it necessary to divide ourselves according to ethnicity and destroy a country? Conflicts between races and religions have had a decisive impact on the serious setbacks in the social, economic and political spheres as well as the breakdown of people’s lives in Sri Lanka since independence. Later on, such issues led to the creation of a number of serious crises in the country and also led to a protracted civil war which destroyed the lives of many Sri Lankans. It also had a devastating effect on the overall economy of this country and the image of the nation.

“One of the main factors cited by social and political analysts as contributing to the country’s demise was the lack of a proper discourse in society on the process of nation building in the pre-independence era and the failure to reach a consensus, as well as systematic actions taken by some parties to create antagonisms between races and religions due to their need to secure political power in the post-independence era. Attention has also been drawn to the fact that informed and influential groups in Sri Lanka in particular have not been widely involved in these matters.

“Unfortunately, even today, many factors are being created to pave the way for such conditions in the country. Special attention has been paid to the situation in the aftermath of the Easter attack, with various suspicions and grievances between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities, the Buddhist community and the Catholic and Christian communities and among the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities as a whole.

“This situation will be decisively detrimental to the future well-being of the country. As responsible organisations and citizens, we need to focus on this and intervene to prevent such an unfortunate situation from occurring in the country. This has become our primary and foremost responsibility.

“Our intention as the Coalition for National and Religious Reconciliation is to contribute to the creation of a broader dialogue among religious institutions and civil society organisations that are regarded as two of the most influential groups in Sri Lanka. At the same time, it is an attempt to inform all citizens of this responsibility. It is to highlight the importance of working responsibly by all people in the name of national and religious reconciliation. It is our fervent belief that this responsibility belongs to all of us.

“After taking the advice of the distinguished participants who are gathered here today, we will travel across the island to speak on national and religious unity. This endeavour will require your approval and participation. Let us unite now to create a prosperous country.”

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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare



Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions



Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread



Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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