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Incident involving Police and Army goes viral: Gen Silva questions conduct of police, demands inquiry



By Shamindra Ferdinando

Police spokesperson SSP Nihal Thalduwa says an inquiry has been initiated into an incident involving the police and a group of soldiers near a police road block, on the main road, leading to Parliament, on the evening of Tuesday (05). Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said that Police Headquarters had received a complaint from Army Commander General Shavendra Silva, who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), regarding the incident. Video footage of the police confronting a four-member team of Army riders, at the road block, amidst a noisy protest, has gone viral on social media, with private television stations, too, telecasting the unprecedented incident.

Although earlier reports said the Army motorcycles had no number plates, yesterday Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who is no friend of the government, told Parliament they did have number plates and called for an impartial inquiry.

In an urgent missive to IGP C.D. Wickremaratne, General Silva asked for an inquiry into what he called the ‘unethical and ill-mannered behaviour’ of two Assistant Superintendents of Police. Calling for disciplinary action against them, the Army Chief said that the Army riders arrived at the scene on the directions of the Director Operations, Army HQ.

Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne, too, has taken up the issue with the IGP as well as the Secretary, Law and Order Ministry, Maj. Gen. Jagath Alwis. Gen. Gunarathe has declared that the police officers’ conduct wasn’t acceptable at all. The two ASPs have intervened and at one point another policeman has been captured switching off the ignition of one of the motorbikes. The police contingent deployed at the checkpoint had told their superiors they intervened to prevent a possible flare-up that may have triggered violence.

Since the eruption of public protests at the Pengiriwatte Road, Mirihana residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, last Thursday (March 31), Army Commander who is also the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) shifted the Air Mobile Brigade of the 53 Division to Colombo. In addition to the Army, both Army and Air Force have been directed to deploy personnel in support of law enforcement authorities. The Special Task Force (STF), too, has been deployed at selected areas as protesters stepped up pressure on ruling party politicians. Both serving and retired military officers yesterday told The Island that the Office of the CDS should ensure smooth coordination among the armed forces and the police especially against the backdrop of coordinated protests and mob violence directed at the residences of Ministers and State Ministers.

The police said that in spite of repeated provocations they had responded patiently. Five policemen received injuries during violent protests outside Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s Kandy residence. They said the possibility of mobs returning to the previously targeted residences couldn’t be ruled out, hence the need to provide security.

State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe alleged in Parliament on Tuesday (05) in spite of him alerting the IGP to an imminent threat posed to his Polonnaruwa residence, the police failed to thwart the attack. Marauding mob caused damages, lawmaker Ranasinghe said, alleging that the Jathika Jana Balavegaya, the Frontline Socialist Party and SLFPers carried out the attack.

SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena, who was present in Parliament at the time, denied the rival’s accusation totally. Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera said that he couldn’t comment on the incident involving the police and army personnel or the current situation, in an official capacity. The Colombo District lawmaker said that such incidents could be quite detrimental to current efforts to curtail violence.

Police and political sources said that Anuradhapura district had been one of the worst affected, where mobs targeted houses and offices of Pohottuwa, SLFP and even Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) early this week. Protesters also targeted soothsayer Gnana akka’s luxurious home prompting the police deployed there to summon army backup. Sources said that for nearly eight hours protesters targeted homes and offices of five Ministers, State Ministers and an MP. The targeted politicians included State Ministers, Dr. Prof. Channa Jayasumana and Shehan Semasinghe as well as Duminda Dissanayake and Cabinet Minister S.M. Chandrasena and Uddika Premaratne. Sources said that Gnana Akka’s home received much better protection than those of the Members of Parliament.

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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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