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DEW issues warning over cremation of COVID-19 victims, stresses need to take public into confidence

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Govt. party leaders’ meeting:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Minister and Communist Party veteran D.E.W. Gunasekera has urged the SLPP government to address the simmering crisis over its policy of cremating the Muslims who die of COVID-19. He cautioned that Western powers could exploit the issue to undermine the country as in the past.

The former lawmaker issued the warning at party leaders’ meeting chaired by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat recently. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was also present.

Political sources said that the discussion had lasted for about three hours and was the first such since November 2019 presidential election.

Gunasekera said that the government couldn’t afford to turn a blind eye to geo-political realities against the backdrop of China-US confrontation and Sri Lanka’s strategic importance.

Gunasekara underscored the importance of responding to situations swiftly and decisively. The former General Secretary of the CP said that over 6.9 mn people had voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa because they had faith in him.

Gunasekera warned that if the dispute over the cremation of all corona victims got out of control, extremists would take advantage of the situation. He also found fault with members of parliament for failing in their responsibilities both in and outside parliament. None of those present responded to Ginasekera’s criticism.

During the lengthy discussion, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pointed out that the SLPP MPs hadn’t at least visited areas affected by recurrent armyworm (Sena caterpillar) invasion. The President recently toured Anuradhapura, where significant crop losses had been caused by insects.

Gunasekera also took exception to a recent article written by Asanga Abeygoonesekera in his capacity as a civilian attached to the Defence Ministry, a subject coming under the purview of the President. Gunasekera said Abeygoonesekera shouldn’t have taken a hostile stand towards China, which was a friend of Sri Lanka.

Gunasekera said that such a stand would cause irreparable damage to the bonds between the two nations. He said the writer in his capacity as a Defence Ministry official had called for a common front against China.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa raised the apparent government decision to go ahead with the handover of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour to India’s Adani Group.

Weerawansa alleged that the deal on ECT would be detrimental to the country. The previous yahapalana government in late May 2019 entered into an MOC (Memorandum of Cooperation) with India and Japan in respect of the ECT although the latter is no longer part of it.

The proposed deal on ECT has sharply divided the government with trade unions vowing to scuttle it.

Gunasekera said that interested parties could take advantage of the recent developments, particularly the cremation of bodies of Covid-19 victims, a sensitive issue for the Muslim community.

Gunasekera last served the Cabinet in 2011. President Maithripala Sirisena left Gunasekera out of the National List following 2015 parliamentary polls.



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Pakistan Navy ship arrives in Colombo

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Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur arrived, at the port of Colombo, on a formal visit, yesterday morning (12). The visiting ship was welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy, in compliance with naval traditions.The 134m-long ship is commanded by Captain M. Yasir Tahir and it is manned by 169 as the ship’s complement.

The Commanding Officer of PNS Taimur is scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area, at the Western Naval Command Headquarters, today. The ship is expected to remain in the island, until 15th August, and the crew of the ship will take part in several programmes, organized by the Sri Lanka Navy, to promote cooperation and goodwill between the two navies.

PNS Taimur is also expected to conduct a naval exercise with the Sri Lanka Navy in western seas on its departure on 15th August.

Meanwhile, PNS Tughril, an identical warship belonging to the Pakistan Navy, arrived in Sri Lanka on an official visit on 13th December 2021 and conducted a successful naval exercise with SLNS Sindurala off the western coast on 16th December. Naval exercises of this nature with regional navies will enable each partner to overcome common maritime challenges in the future, through enhanced cooperation.

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Stalin reads riot act to govt. over proposal to allow schoolchildren to work part time

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Alliance of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations yesterday warned that the government’s decision to allow schoolchildren, between the ages of 16 and 20, to work part time, would have disastrous consequences.Addressing the media on 11 Aug., General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said that the government was planning to amend laws, allowing schoolchildren to work in the private sector for 20 hours a week.

“Now, this may look like a progressive idea. A lot of families are

struggling and if another family member can chip in, it would be a great help. I am sure a lot of children feel the same way. It is also true that there may be children who will find great jobs and horn their skills,” he said.However, these proposals have come at a time when education is in crisis and the schools are on the verge of collapse.

“During the last two and a half years, most children have learnt nothing. But children who go to elite schools are doing better. These schools have systems in place, but most others don’t. Children who do not go to tier one schools have suffered and most children who do not go to such elite schools will not find part time work that will prepare them for the jobs of the future,” he said. “It’s not easy to balance school work with vocation training, especially physically intensive work. Most people will drop out and social mobility will further stagnate. Fix the education system first and create a more level playing field,” Stalin said.

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Harsha: Will RW use Emergency to steamroller his economic reforms?

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By Saman Indrajith

SJB MP Harsha de Silva yesterday asked President Ranil Wickremesinghe whether the latter was planning to use Emergency powers to suppress the people who might oppose his economic reform agenda.

“It is being asked why the government wants to continue the State of Emergency. The anti-government protesters have gone home. There is no unrest. There are those who say that the President wants to keep the Emergency laws to carry out economic reforms. Does that mean the President will use these laws to scare people into submission if they do not accept his economic reforms? I don’t think people can be intimidated. I want the President to answer this question,” he said.

MP de Silva said that the government did not have public support and that it was obvious that the spectre of the Rajapaksas was haunting the government.

“I agree that Wickremesinghe was appointed constitutionally. We have to work within the Constitution. However, the 134 votes he received on 20 July were not realistic. They have managed to manipulate the Constitution, but the government doesn’t have the support of the people. The problem is can the government win the support of the people,” he said.The SJB lawmaker added that Sri Lanka needed to restructure its debt. However, the country had not even started the process.

“One of the consultants we hired, Lazard, says that we have to start with China because it is new to debt restructuring. But we have not done so. Not only that, we have in fact started a diplomatic issue with China. What’s the front page news today? Can this government solve this sensitive international issue? Can it carry out the necessary economic reforms?” he asked.

MP de Silva said that the government had to work with the people and that it had to be honest with them. The government needed to present a common programme on which an all party government could be established.

“In 2020, we said that the government was on the wrong path and that we needed to seek IMF assistance. The government didn’t listen. We need an all-party programme to go before the IMF and get a decent deal. Today, I present to Parliament an economic recovery plan we have prepared. When we decided to throw our weight behind SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma, I was entrusted with the task of making an economic plan. We have run it through experts too. I ask the MPs to look at this and suggest improvements.”

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