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HRC seeks clarification over Emergency as protesting trade unions complain



IUSF vows to lay siege on Parliament

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, Justice Rohini Marasinghe, has sought an explanation from Defence Secretary, General Kamal Gunaratne, IGP C. D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the President, Gamini Senarath, against the backdrop of trade unions affiliated to political parties and civil society groups, challenging the government over the declaration of emergency with effect from midnight May 07,

The HRC consists of Justice Marasinghe, Venerable Kalupahana Piyarathana Thera, Dr. M.H. Nimal Karunasiri, Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara and Ms. Anusuya Shanmuganathan.

Justice Marasinghe yesterday (08) told The Island that the HRC had felt the urgent need to seek a clarification on behalf of the public, of the reasons for the controversial proclamation as protests have been largely peaceful and within the domain of normal police operations. “We sincerely hope that freedom of speech and assembly, the rights associated with arrest and detention as well as other fundamental rights and freedoms, will not be affected or diminished during the period of the emergency.

Addressing a hastily-arranged media briefing on Saturday, trade union activist Ravi Kumudesh declared their intention to lay siege to Parliament when sittings resumed on May 17.

Kumudesh warned lawmakers would be allowed to enter the Parliament without hindrance but wouldn’t be permitted to leave until public grievances were addressed.

Former JVP lawmaker Wasantha Samarasinghe, former UNP MP Saman Ratnapriya and JVP trade union activists, Mahinda Jayasinghe (education) and Ranjan Jayalal (electricity) joined Kumudesh in declaring what they called a national protest week.

Top Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) spokesperson Duminda Nagamuwa told a separate media briefing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would soon regret not leaving the executive presidency when he could.

Recalling how the President recently regretted his disastrous sudden decision to change the agriculture policy and the inordinate delay in seeking the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (OMF), the breakaway JVP faction said that the government had lost its bearings. Similarly, the President would soon regret him hanging onto executive power regardless of public demands for him to resign.

Justice Marasinghe emphasised that the HRC was seriously concerned about further deterioration of the situation.

Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) Wasantha Mudalige last Friday (06) declared that they would surround Parliament on 17 May. The IUSF affiliated to the FSP involved in the ongoing Galle Face protest campaign issued the warning following two tear gas attacks on them and the public blocking the main entrance to the Parliament.

FSP’s Pubudu Jagoda said that they were quite surprised by the government’s response to the growing public discontent over the shortage of essential items and services as well as political instability. The declaration of emergency only strengthened our resolve to chase the corrupt lot out whatever the consequences be, Jagoda said, frequent disruption of traffic on major roads in Colombo and its suburbs and the provinces reflected the collapse of law and order.

Jagoda pointed out the emergency wouldn’t be a deterrent at all as the public were out on the streets in large numbers. Law enforcement authorities couldn’t cope with such a large-scale public protest campaign by declaring emergency, Jagoda said, drawing the government’s attention to the public response to imposition of the countrywide curfew on April 03 to thwart the protest campaign. People simply moved into streets, violated curfew and simply ignored the presence of the police.

By declaring an emergency, the government has now set the stage for an unprecedented showdown between the public and the police, Jagoda said. “We are in a critical stage that may influence public disobedience campaigns. There is no turning back now. The confrontation outside the Parliament on 17 May  cannot be tackled by political jugglery,” Jagoda said.


Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party



By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code



by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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