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Covid robs the country of outspoken politician, Mangala Samaraweera

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Mangala Samaraweera addressing his final briefing at the ‘Freedom Hub’ at T.B. Jayah Mawatha on July 25 where he warned of the debt trap faced by the country

Former lawmaker and outspoken politician Mangala Pinsiri Samaraweera yesterday (24) died of Covid-19. Samaraweera was 65 at the time of his death.

Mangala entered Parliament for the first time in 1989 from the SLFP. He served as a Cabinet minister under several governments.

Nominated by the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) to contest the last general election from the Matara District, Samaraweera quit it at the last moment. He addressed his last media briefing on 25 July at ‘Freedom House’ at T.B. Jayah Mawatha as the leader of an organisation called ‘True Patriots.’

Samaraweera fell sick soon thereafter and initially they didn’t suspect it was Covid-19. Asked whether Samaraweera had received the Covid-19 vaccine, sources said the former minister did.

Samaraweera was the son of Mahanama Samaraweera, Cabinet minister of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s government, and Khema Samaraweera.

Mangala may have had his shortcomings like any human being, but whatever he did was done with plenty of panache and commitment. In certain ways he was ahead of his times and very innovative. He took up challenges in his stride.

Samaraweera led ‘Mothers’ Front’ with the then Hambantota District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, against the deaths squads during the second JVP uprising.

Samaraweera returned to parliament at the next general election in 1994 and was accommodated in the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s Cabinet as the Post and Telecommunications Minister. Samaraweera also served as the Minister of Urban Development, Construction and Public Utilities in the same Cabinet following a cabinet reshuffle and was later given the Deputy Minister of Finance portfolio.

Subsequent to the SLFP’s defeat at the general election in 2001, Samaraweera was made the Chief Opposition Whip and the Treasurer of the party. Following their return to power at the 2004 general election, Samaraweera received Ports, Aviation and Media portfolios in the new cabinet of President Kumaratunga.

In the run-up to the 2005 presidential election, he gave up media portfolio while retaining Ports and Aviation portfolios. Samaraweera played a significant role in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign and was rewarded with an additional foreign affairs portfolio. However, following a dispute with the Rajapaksas, Samaraweera was replaced in January 2007 as foreign minister and UNPer Rohitha Bogollagama given that vital portfolio during the Eelam War IV.

President Rajapaksa retained Samaraweera as the Ports and Aviation minister. But, Samaraweewa along with Anura Bandaranaike and Sripathy Sooriyaarachchi were sacked from the party on February 9, 2007. Samaraweera formed a new political party, the SLFP (Mahajana) wing but gave it up to join the UNP.

Later, Samaraweera joined the UNP and played a crucial role as an Opposition member and following the 2015 general election received the appointment as the foreign minister. Samaraweera along with the then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe paved the way for the signing of Geneva Resolution in early Oct 2015. Two years later, President Maithripala Sirisena in agreement with Wickremesinghe switched portfolios held by Samaraweera and finance minister Ravi Karunanayaka.

Following Sajith Premadasa’s defeat at the 2019 presidential election, Samaraweera pledged his support to the rebel group who took over the registered political party and re-registered it as the SJB.

Samaraweera strongly pushed for media freedom and was instrumental in allowing television stations to carry local news bulletins in 1994. (SF)



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Inter-provincial travel ban to be lifted on Oct. 31

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Flagrant violations largely ignored during restrictions

ECONOMYNEXT – The ongoing inter-provincial travel ban will be lifted on October 31, the national COVID-19 prevention task force said, despite social media accounts – and sometimes pictures – of people openly flouting the ban.

The restriction was imposed in conjunction with an island-wide lockdown, officially known as a quarantine curfew, that the government declared on August 20 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Despite the lockdown being relaxed on October 01 as cases began to drop, the inter-province travel restriction has remained, at least on paper.

Critics, however, claim that people have been traveling – some even going on trips – around the country blatantly ignoring the ban, despite President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordering the authorities to strictly enforce it from October 21.

“After a discussion among the task force on Friday (23), with the permission of the president, it was decided to lift the travel ban from 4am October 31,” Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva told reporters on Friday.

Silva, who heads the national COVID-19 task force, said all public transportation services will also restart on October 25 and will operate according to health guidelines.

Health officials have joined the chorus of voices lamenting the apparent lax nature of the inter-provincial travel ban. The public does not seem to follow health guidelines increasing the risk of another wave of the epidemic, they have said.

“The behaviour of the public is not satisfactory,” Health Promotion Bureau Director Dr Ranjith Batuwanthudawa told the privately owned Derana network in an interview.

“The public did not follow the guidelines in the first long weekend after restrictions were relaxed. It can again increase the number of patients to a level the health sector cannot cope with,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Gen Silva said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be administered as a booster dose for frontline workers in the health, military, police and tourism sectors starting November 01.

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North, East see highest attendance of students, teachers: Dinesh

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ECONOMYNEXT – Northern and Eastern provinces saw the highest attendance of students, teachers, and principals when schools were reopened for the first time in six months, Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told parliament on Friday (22).

Classes from grades 1 to 5 recommenced at 5,059 schools with fewer than 200 students on Thursday (21) amid an ongoing strike by teachers’ trade unions which is set to finally end next Monday (25).

Minister Gunawardena said the government was able to open around 98 percent of the targeted schools.

“Sixteen percent of students attended schools across the country, while 26 percent of teachers who signed their attendance,” Minister Gunawardena told parliament.

Principals showed up to work at 69 percent of schools with fewer than 200 students, in the island’s north, while 52 percent of teachers and 21 percent of students were present on Thursday, he said.

In the Eastern province, 67 percent of principals, 45 percent of teachers, and 39 percent of students went back to school on Thursday, he added.

In contrast, schools in the Southern and Western provinces saw lower levels of attendance from principals, teachers, and students, the minister said.

“We believe everyone will support the reopening of schools without any party or colour difference,” Minister Gunawardena said.

Trade unions are not fully onboard the government’s proposed solution to their long-standing grievance of salary anomalies.

The three-month-long strike, one of the longest trade union campaigns in Sri Lanka’s history, has deprived students of their only mode of distance learning in pandemic times: online education.

It is still uncertain if all principals will report to duty on Monday as some principals’ trade unions have said some of their demands including car permits and a mobile phone allowance have not been addressed yet.

School teachers and principals in Sri Lanka were on strike for the 99th day running on October 15 when they said they would start work from October 25.

The government proposed to increase their salaries in a four-year strategy, but upon the rejection of that proposal, the government later proposed to give the increments in two installments. The unions rejected this, too, and continued the strike, demanding that their salaries be increased in one go.

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Foreign Minister to launch Lanka-UK chamber of commerce in London

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by Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Foreign Minister Prof G. L. Peiris is scheduled to be in London this week starting from tomorrow (25) for a series of events including the launching the Sri Lanka-UK Chamber of Commerce, diplomatic sources said

During his stay in London from Monday to Thursday (28), Prof Peiris is to meet his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss and Members of the Houses of Parliament and Lord Naseby.

Sources said that it would be Prof Peiris’ first visit to London after assuming the duties as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The launch of the Sri Lanka – United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to be presided over by HSBC bank. Lord Davies of Abersoch, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Sri Lanka and a host of invitees including the representatives of the London Stock Exchange and De La Rue. The new Chamber is to be registered with both British Chamber of Commerce and the UK Companies House.

Prof Peiris is expected to complete his London visit on Thursday (28) and then to proceed to Glasgow to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which is scheduled to begin next Sunday (31).

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