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Cardinal calls for justice and change in Lanka

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Demonstrators in Galle Face light candles during a silent protest to pay respect to the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings

Vatican News: Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, is in Rome to mark the anniversary of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka.

Pope Francis is meeting participants in St. Peter’s Basilica after a Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica. The event comes a few days after a Mass celebrated by the Sri Lankan Cardinal on 21 April, during which the prelate delivered a hard-hitting speech blaming the country’s President and his government for failing to keep their pledge to grant justice to the victims and cleanse the country of “all elements of terror”.

Three years from the coordinated bombings that wrought death, injury and destruction, mostly amongst the Christian community, investigations have proved insufficient and recommendations issued by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry have not been implemented. Furthermore, the government, it is alleged, is covering up the truth in order to hide its own involvement.

The country’s top Catholic leader has tirelessly pushed for truth, calling for accountability and transparency. Together with other faith leaders of the island nation, he has given voice to the people’s growing anger and dissent as they suffer one of the worst economic crises the country has ever seen.

Speaking to Vatican Radio just before the Mass in the Vatican on 25 April, he explained that the country’s current rulers are accused of corruption and mismanagement that have brought about the spiralling crisis, and are facing serious accusations they not only have not sought justice for the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in which 269 people were killed and more than 500 were injured, but have sought to bury evidence the attacks may have been carried out for political aims to favour their own re-election.

Cardinal Ranjith explained that the prevailing narrative led most people to believe that those attacks were carried out in an atmosphere of Islamic fanaticism, but, he said “elements of testimony emerged that these attacks had something more than just an Islamic connotation.”

The Cardinal went on to say that there is emerging evidence to the effect that the government, and especially the intelligence wing of the military, had contacts with the terrorists who carried out the attacks.

Notwithstanding insistent requests that those contacts be investigated, he added, nothing has happened.

He listed a number of reasons that point to the involvement of the government and to something more than “simply an Islamic attack” that have raised suspicions.

Cardinal Ranjith added that “after the Presidential Commission of Inquiry issued its report, the present government hesitated to carry out the recommendations or chose to carry out only those recommendations that refer to the Islamic community and tried to hide some of the recommendations, which would, if they are further investigated, reveal other angles of these attacks.”

Therefore, Cardinal Ranjith continued, “we are highly suspicious of these things and we want further investigations to be done.” Until then, the people who are injured and who have lost their loved ones, will not get justice.

This serious situation of suspicion and lack of trust in the government is currently compounded by the socio-economic crisis that is triggering protests and even violence.

The Cardinal looked back at years of “inefficient management of the country, of its economy, and wrong policy decisions that have led to a total collapse of the national economy.”

“Right now in Sri Lanka,” he said, “people are not able to make ends meet (…) because of lack of employment, a lack of income, the rising prices of items and sometimes scarcity of items, like the difficulty in obtaining fuel for the maintenance of life, as well as the lack of electricity, lack of gas, various other items for daily sustenance.”

All this, he said, has led to a general feeling of total dissatisfaction and the realisation that the country has collapsed and it is a failed state.

Cardinal Ranjith went on to illustrate a desperate situation caused by the total breakdown of trust in the entire political system, including the Opposition.

The country’s main religious leaders have sought to into this vacuum.

“We hope,” he continued, ” that we will be able to sustain this country and make it work once again. So it has become the role of the religious leaders to assist the people to get out of this situation.”

“Along with the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, we Christians can work together and thinking about the country as a whole, not just only our people. We can try to work out a solution to this present crisis,” he said.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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