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FM meets Pakistan HC after protest against proposed ban on burqa



JVP: SL in trouble as govt. bigwigs don’t speak with one voice

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena met Pakistan High Commissioner Major General (Retd.) Muhammad Saad Khattak after the latter expressed concern over Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd.) Sarath Weerasekera’s declaration that the burqa would be banned in keeping with the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry

(PCoI) on the Easter attacks. Pakistan HC warned such a ban would ‘injure’ the feelings of ordinary Muslims in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

The Foreign Ministry said that Minister Gunawardena and Major General Khattak had met at the Foreign Ministry to discuss how to expand the bilateral relationship pursuant to the recent visit to Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Both sides agreed to implement the projects which were announced during the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan, including the setting up of mobile libraries donated by Pakistan and the offer of additional hundred medical scholarships to Sri Lankan students.

Minister Gunawardena, while welcoming the offer by Pakistan to open Buddhist pilgrim sites for Sri Lankans, conveyed that the aviation sector, along with Sri Lanka tourism would announce Pakistan – Sri Lanka sector travel packages soon. The Pakistan High Commissioner invited Buddhist monks, journalists and academics to undertake familiarization visits to Pakistan to witness the diversity of well-preserved Buddhist heritage sites.

High Commissioner Khattak extended an invitation for Minister Gunawardena to attend the Pakistan National Day celebrations on 23 March 2021 in Colombo.

Sharing a news report on the proposed ban, Khattak said on Monday in a Twitter thread: “The likely ban on Niqab #SriLanka will only serve as injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe. At today’s economically difficult time due to Pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at international fora, such divisive steps in the name of Security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as a fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country.”

All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen appreciated the stand taken by Pakistan.

SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris on Monday told regular weekly briefing at Waters Edge that the burqa would be banned in terms of the (PCoI) recommendations. Prof. Peiris is on record as having said that the government would implement all PCoI recommendations except the banning of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that the government should be ashamed of the way it handled such a sensitive issue. “The Public Security Minister made an announcement. His declaration was dismissed by Foreign Secretary Admiral (Retd.) Jayanath Colombage and the Cabinet Spokesman.” Dissanayake said that the incumbent government had made policy U-turns on several occasions.

Well informed sources said that Pakistan’s response to the proposed ban on the burqa caused a lot of apprehension among government members. Pakistan represents the Asia Group in the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Sources said that Sri Lanka always received Pakistan’s backing at the UNHRC and unnecessary rift a week before a high profile vote on the UK-led Core Group sponsored resolution could further undermine Sri Lanka’s stand. (SF)

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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament



Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations



By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.



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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert



By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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