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Cabinet decision on ECT irreversible, SLPA can take over SAGT-Wimal

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, yesterday (2) said that the party that controlled the East Container Terminal (ECT) would be in a position to take over the neighbouring South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) in a couple of years in terms of an agreement between the government and Sri Lanka’s first public-private container terminal.

The SAGT operation was launched in 1999 during President Kumaratunga’s tenure at the height of the war.

The Board of Investment flagship SAGT consists of approximately 60% Sri Lankan shareholding, and is backed by John Keells Holdings, APM Terminals, Peony Investments (subsidiary of Evergreen Marine Corporation) and the SLPA.

The SLPA owns 15 % shares of the SAGT. In the China- managed Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), too, the SLPA owned 15% shares whereas the Chinese held 85%.

Minister Weerawansa told a hastily arranged press conference at his party office at Pitakotte Sri Lanka shouldn’t under any circumstances allowed external investment in the ECT. The minister explained that the deep water ECT was the strategically most important terminal in the Colombo harbour. Therefore, it should be in Sri Lanka’s hands.

At the onset of the briefing Weerawansa explained how Sri Lanka could immensely benefit when the SAGT was brought under SLPA control. There couldn’t be any issue at all in the wake of the cabinet unanimously deciding on Monday (1) to retain the ECT, MP Weerawansa said, pointing out that the country would receive a mega boost when the SLPA commenced managing both terminals.

Weerawansa and State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera profusely thanked those in the SLPP, in parliament and outside who helped thwart the move to go ahead with an agreement finalised in late May 2019 involving Sri Lanka, India and Japan. The minister appreciated the role played by the Maha Sangha in the campaign against the move.

The agreement based on an understanding the then President Maithripala Sirisena reached with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in New Delhi and Tokyo in March, 2018.

The NFF emphasised that the Cabinet decision was line with Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto for the presidential election.

The NFF leader said that they always opposed the move to bring in external investment at the ECT. However, in terms of the presidential election manifesto, external investments could be utilized in the setting up of West Container Terminal (WCT) which is something only on paper at the moment.

Among those lawmakers who had publicly opposed Indian investment at the ECT in addition to Weerawansa and Samaraweera are Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Gevindu Cumaratunga, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, Asanka Navaratne, Weerasumana Weerasinha, Udaya Gammanpila and Ven. Atureliye Rathana.

Minister Weerawansa said that unlike those who had backed the UNP remained silent when the administration took decisions inimical to the country. The minister targeted the civil society and the JVP for being silent when the UNP handed over Hambantota harbour on a 99-year lease to China in 2017.

Asked to comment on India’s declaration that New Delhi expected Sri Lanka to implement tripartite 2019 agreement endorsed by the cabinet three months ago, Minister Weerawansa strongly defended the government decision. The minister said that the cabinet decision on ECT wouldn’t be reversed. According to him, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had to be mindful of Sri Lanka’s concerns than Indian statements.

Minister Weerawansa said that the NFF didn’t oppose Indian or other foreign investment in the WCT. The NFF leader said that India and Japan could take advantage of Sri Lanka’s offer based on what the Minister called CICT model. Responding to another query, MP Weerawansa said that India could take 85% of the proposed WCT.



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MP’s wife, father-in-law among three detained

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Rishad held under PTA to be questioned

16-year-old girl’s death:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Police investigating the death of 16-year-old Ishalini, the domestic servant at All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen’s Baudhaloka Mawatha residence have arrested Ayesha Shiabdeen, 46, the wife of the former minister.

Police also took into custody Rishad’s father-in-law Mohammed Shiabdeen, 70, and Ponnaiah Pandaram alias Shankar, 64, a resident of Dayagama.

Police Spokesman Senior DIG Ajith Rohana said that Shankar had brought Ilashini from Dayagama to the Baudhaloka Mawatha residence of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Vanni District lawmaker late last year.

Having studied the post postmortem report, they were taken into custody in terms of Section 360 C and Section 308 B of the Penal Code that dealt with human trafficking and cruelty to children, the top police officer said. According to him, so far 20 statements had been recorded.

Asked whether MP Bathiudeen, too, had been among the questioned, Senior DIG Rohana said the parliamentarian detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) over 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, too, would be interrogated in that regard.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. It switched its allegiance to the SJB ahead of 2020 general election after having represented the cabinet in UNP led yahapalana administration. Rishad has also served President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet during his second term.

Having suffered serious burn injuries on July 3 at the MP’s residence and admitted to the National Hospital, Illashini succumbed to her injuries on July 15th. Medical examination revealed that she had been raped over a period of time.

The police spokesman said that they intended to secure court approval to detain the suspects for 72 hours. A Superintendent of Police could obtain such approval on the strength of a B report submitted to the court in respect of offenses on children.

Although, the police indicated earlier in the day they would be produced in Colombo Magistrate court they weren’t brought in.

Meanwhile, the SJB said that interested parties were making a despicable attempt to politicize the incident. The police should be allowed to conduct the investigation without interference, a spokesman for the main Opposition party said.

 

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Women’s organisations in North conduct protests demanding justice for Ilashini

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A section of those engaged in Jaffna protests

 

By Dinasena Ratugamage

Women’s organisations in the North yesterday held a number of demonstrations in Vavuniya, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna against the death of J. Ilashini, the 16 -year-old girl who died while working at SJB MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence.

The protesters urged authorities to ensure that investigations into the death are conducted in a transparent manner. The family of the victim should be compensated and those guilty punished, they said.

Representatives of the organisations said that if justice was not done, they would hold a massive demonstration in Tarapuram, Mannar, which Bathiudeen represents in Parliament.

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Dancer lodges complaint with police over FB post 

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Police headquarters yesterday (23) said that dancer Anusha Damayanthi had lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) over a Facebook post alleging that she was running a brothel.

Police headquarters said that Damayanthi, while denying the accusation, had also brought to the CID’s notice that a minister was being accused of lambasting the Walana anti-crime strike force for carrying out the raid. Police said that an investigation was underway.

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