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Civil society intervenes on behalf of Muslim Covid-19 victims



Karu: Extremists may exploit govt. stand

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two civil society groups -NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice) and Purawesi Balaya yesterday (21) urged the government to allow the burial of Muslim victims of Covid-19 in keeping with the WHO guidelines.

Former Speaker and one-time UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya and Gamini Viyangoda, on behalf of the NMSJ and Purawesi Balaya respectively, threw their weight behind the ongoing campaign to have the controversial ban on burials lifted.

They pointed out that the UN, too, backed Sri Lankan Muslim community’s demand for burial rights.

These civil society groups took up a stand on burial issue in the wake of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa attacking the government for not adhering with specific UN and WHO instructions in this regard.

Alleging that the government was acting contrary to international norms in respect of final rights of Covid-19 victims, Jayasuriya pointed out that internationally acclaimed virologist Prof. Malik Peiris recently set the record straight. He suggested that burials should be allowed with bodies wrapped in impermeable material.

Responding to another query raised by The Island, the former lawmaker emphasized that continuing prohibition on burials couldn’t be justified under any circumstances as the entire world allowed burials.

Pointing out that there had been a series of discussions among various stakeholders in that regard over the past couple of months and the issue at hand also figured during parliamentary proceedings, the former Speaker drew the government’s attention to a recent court directive that a body should be kept in cold storage until expert committee decided on the matter.

Jayasuriya urged the government to take a decision without further delay. The former Speaker warned that the failure on the part of the government to respond positively to reasonable request could be exploited by extremist elements. The NMSJ Chief said that the government should not turn a blind eye to public protests in various parts of the world demanding the Muslims given burial rights.

Muslims protested both in and outside parliament with Thowheed Jamaat displaying placards at Galle Face against the government.

Purawesi Balaya spokesperson Viyangoda said that the government bid to bury Sri Lankan Muslim dead (corona victims) in the Maldives revealed the bankruptcy of the SLPP lot. Viyangoda said that the Maldives turned down Sri Lanka’s request on the basis it could cause unrest there.

Regardless of UN and WHO assertions that burial of those who died of Covid-19 didn’t pose health risk, Sri Lanka prohibited burials but allowed unrestricted import of foreign garbage, including hazardous materials during the last regime, Viyangoda said.

The civil society activist asked whether anyone of those who had been responsible for importing container loads of British garbage were hauled up before courts.

Having imported garbage from Europe, Sri Lanka now wanted to export bodies to Maldives because it was a Muslim country, Viyangoda said.

Viyangoda said that the government decision was certainly not fair by both Muslims and Catholics as both communities buried their dead.

Referring to a plethora of recent claims that burial of Covid-19 victims posed a grave danger as the groundwater could get contaminated, Viyangoda said that no less a person than Prof. Malik Peiris recently declared scientific opinion on the issue at hand. Once Prof. Peiris stated his opinion there couldn’t be an issue over resumption of burials, Viyangoda said.

Viyangoda said that only China and Sri Lanka carried out compulsory cremations contrary to the stand taken by the UN and WHO.

Both Jayasuriya and Viyangoda pointed out that UN Resident Representative in Colombo Hanaa Singer in early last month made representations to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in this regard.

Viyangoda said that Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, recently explained why burials should be allowed as the practice didn’t pose a health risk. Appreciating the stand taken by Minister Sabry on this particular issue, Viyangoda said that the National List MP looked at the issue at hand as a member of the community affected by an extremely unfair government stance. However, Minister Sabry took a very different stand on other issues, Viyangoda said. A case in point, he said was the President’s Counsel’s stand on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.

Viyangoda said that Minister Sabry’s 50 minute video on social media should be watched by both those for and against burials.

Viyangoda said that lawmaker Prof. Tissa Vitharana, too, expressed a view contrary to that of the SLPP as he was no longer a member of the cabinet. The civil society activist said that Prof. Vitharana wouldn’t have uttered a word contrary to the government stand if he was accommodated in the cabinet.

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Aircraftsman sets swimming record with flying colours



Leading Aircraftman Roshan Abeysundara of the Air Force yesterday set a new Asian record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in Rameshwaram. During his preparation for the event, Abeysundara renewed the national open water swimming record twice. He has also created a new record by swimming a 25 km distance from Matara to Koggala on 03 Jan, clocking 10 hours and 37 minutes, and went on to surpass the record by swimming a distance of 49Km from Matara to Hikkaduwa and back to Unawatuna on Feb 27 in 23 hours and 10 minutes.

He started swimming from Talaimannar at 2 am on Saturday and reached Dhanushkody and returned to Talaimannar around 7 am yesterday by completing 59.3 km in 28 hours 19 minutes and 43 seconds, breaking a 50-year-old Asian record set in 1971 by V.S. Kumar Anandan’s, who took 51 hours to swim across the Palk Strait. Abeysundara also set a new Lankan record by swimming from Talaimannar to Dhanushkody in 19 hours and 31 minutes.

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JVP women raise fears about cost and safety of food for New Year



By Saman Indrajith

The JVP women’s wing led by Women for Rights says that exorbitant prices of food and fears over their safety will make the forthcoming Sinhala and Tamil New Year a miserable affair.

“The prices of essential food items are at unprecedented highs. In addition, there are fears in the minds of the people about the quality and safety of food items being sold in the market. There were no such fears and doubts whether the food items in the market were fit for human consumption in the past as it is now,” Secretary of the WFR Samanmalee Gunasinghe said addressing a press conference held at the party headquarters in Pelawatte Friday.

Gunasinghe said that all those issues with regard to food prices and their standards and safety were about food security of the country. “Food security is a prerequisite for national security which this government promised to achieve. Food security no longer exists in this country and, worse, people are worrying about food safety.”

She said that social media was full of posts expressing people’s concerns about food safety.

“They are afraid because the government is putting their lives in danger not only by permitting coconut oil imports with high levels of aflatoxin but also allowing the adulteration of other food items. Some months ago, they brought down container loads of canned fish past shelf life and released them to the market. There are fears that milk, chilli powder and packaged food items contain various toxins. Scientists make statements to the effect that the fertilizers being used for paddy cultivation contain huge amounts of arsenic.”

President of the WFR Saroja Savithri Paulraj said that children of the country had not been able to celebrate the last Sinhala and Tamil New Year because of the COVID pandemic and now the people were gripped by fear of toxic food and their prices. Price of kilo of green grams is now Rs 850-1000, cowpea Rs 1,200, Undu (urid) Rs 1,700, chicken Rs 800, Chillies nearly Rs 1,000.

“This government has no answers for the problems created by the Easter Sunday terror attacks even after two years. The forests are being cleared and no responsible action is taken to prevent them. Women who become victims of micro-credit schemes are staging protests. Farmers staging protests in various places in the country. It is with those problems that people this time are compelled to mark the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.”

Exco member of WFR Prabhashini Wickramasinghe also addressed the media.



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Govt. claims SLPP-SLFP relations remain strong



… admits Easter Sunday carnage a contentious issue

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) yesterday (11) strongly denied reports that a section of the ruling party coalition, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), was on a collision course with it. Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage insisted that in spite of some minor disagreements among coalition members there was absolutely no threat to the government.

Participating in a newly launched live SLBC programme, the Kandy District MP accused the bankrupt Opposition, that was struggling both in and outside Parliament of propagating lies.

Acknowledging that a section of SLPP lawmakers had met at the SLFP Office at Darley Road, under former President Maithripala Sirisena’s chairmanship last Thursday (8), Minister Aluthgamage said that members of a coalition administration could hold diverse positions on a particular issue.

The Minister was responding to interviewers, Himananda Rajapaksa and Inusha Weebedde on ‘Kannadiya’ produced by Sudarmika Wijeratne. Rupavahini and The Island were represented by Vijaya Dissanayake and Shamindra Ferdinando, respectively.

Referring to what he called a contradictory position taken by National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa in respect of some contentious issues, Minister Aluthgamage said that the stand taken by the former JVPer on the East Container Terminal (ECT) proved right. Minister Aluthgamage appreciated the cancellation of the proposed agreement on the ECT following protests by a section of the government. Earlier the government announced plans to transfer ECT’s controlling shares to India’s Adani Group.

The minister said that the consensus on the ECT should be compared with the previous administration handing over the controlling shares of the strategic Hambantota port to China.

Minister Aluthgamage also dismissed claims that the SLFP led group was planning to conduct a separate May Day rally. The minister insisted the coalition was still strong regardless of issues – a situation experienced by coalition administrations in the past. Aluthgamage asserted that divergent views among coalition members were helpful in facilitating a better stand on a particular issue.

The programme was told difficulties experienced by the government should be examined against the backdrop of former President Maithripala, one of those named by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday carnage now being a member of the SLPP led government.  The SLMC and the ACMC flayed over the Easter Sunday massacre switched their allegiance from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to Sajith Premadasa, the leader of the breakaway UNP faction recognized as the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB).

It was also told that the break-up of the coalition was unlikely though in political turmoil.

Top SLFP spokesman and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera confirmed the stand taken by his ministerial colleague, Aluthgamage. Declaring the role played by the SLFP in helping wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa win the 2019 presidential election, Minister Amaraweera reiterated their commitment to the government.

The SLFP group in the government consisted of 14 lawmakers. The government parliamentary group comprised 145 members.

Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, Aviation Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (ret.) Sarath Weerasekera explained how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government handled the Easter Sunday issue.

Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera, Presidential Secretariat Director General – Legal Affairs said that the government’s response was three-fold. “We provided relief, punishment to those responsible and remedial measures to prevent similar attacks,” Rohanadeera said.

Dismissing accusations as regards the ongoing investigations/process, Rohanadeera pointed out that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa having consulted the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith retained the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) appointed by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.  The lawyer underscored the government determination to implement the CoI report along with the recommendations of the Sectoral Defence Oversight Committee.

The Presidential aide explained the need to address issues without being diverted by political factors. The official rejected assertions that the CoI was meant to delay justice to those killed and their families.

The interviewers raised issue over SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera reiterating concerns that the person recently named as the mastermind wasn’t so and there were other powerful interested parties bent on destabilizing the country.  The programme was reminded of former UNP lawmaker and one-time Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, warning of Western destabilization projects as long as the Hambantota port remained in Chinese hands.

The previous UNP led government finalized the deal on Hambantota port in 2017.

The programme was told the high-profile Western intervention at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) largely influenced by the ongoing battle for supremacy between the US and China. However, almost all political parties represented in parliament had been in one way or another implicated in the Easter Sunday violence.

Near simultaneous Easter suicide attacks claimed the lives of 270. Over 500 received injuries.

The mystery of India infiltrating the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), too, was raised though there was consensus Sri Lanka should be grateful for intelligence provided by India in the run-up to Easter blasts. The interview was asked of the need to be wary of foreign intelligence services operating in Colombo.



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