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Keheliya says Pfizer booster a must to be categorised as fully vaccinated

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Second dose for 16-19 age group can be received countrywide on Jan 29

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella says in spite of Sri Lanka handling the first two phases of the Covid-19 vaccination drive quite well, the country was not out of the woods yet due to the poor public response to the Pfizer-BioNTech booster.

Continuing public apathy could cause a setback to ongoing economic recovery efforts, Rambukwella asserts.

Flanked by colleagues, Ports and Shipping Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena and Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, lawmaker Rambukwella explained the difficulty in attracting the public to the booster, thereby the threat they posed, at a meeting with the media at the Health Ministry.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought in Rambukwella as the Health Minister last August, the first Cabinet reshuffle since the August 2020 parliamentary polls. The Kandy district MP succeeded Pavitra Wanniarachchi who received the transport portfolio.

Minister Rambukwella said that an overall review was required as Sri Lanka marked the first anniversary of the launch of the inoculation campaign on Saturday (January 29). Health Minister Rambukwella, Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe and Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena urged the public to take the booster without further delay or face the consequences. They said that the booster could be taken at over 1,000 hospitals and other centres next Saturday. The health administration urged the public to take advantage of the opportunity to join the fully vaccinated group. The appeal was made in the wake of a weeklong (January 11 to 17) countrywide campaign failing to attract adequate numbers to take the booster shot.

Minister Rambukwella accepted a suggestion that the booster be considered a third dose and those who had received them categorized as fully vaccinated. They agreed on the urgent need to pressure the public on the third dose against the backdrop of Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam declaring Covid-19 vaccination couldn’t be made mandatory.

At the onset of the briefing, the former Media Minister recalled the daunting challenges faced by the current dispensation at the time of the Covid-19 eruption a few months after the last presidential election in Nov 2019. Acknowledging that the government had minimal capacity to meet such a challenging task, lawmaker Rambukwella said that the Opposition questioned whether the new administration could secure the support of the international community.

“We are in a comparatively comfortable situation today thanks to the vaccination rollout made possible by the international support,” Minister Rambukwella said. Underscoring the pivotal importance in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s role in securing vaccines amidst fierce competition among the countries, big and small, Sri Lanka was able to obtain 51 mn doses. “Now, 8 mn Pfizer doses remain for the third dose,”

Minister Rambukwella said whatever the lies propagated by interested parties the responsibility in going for the booster/third jab lay with the public.

The Minister said that 4.9 mn (30 percent) of those eligible for the vaccination had received the booster so far, whereas GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando also said on the same day only 22.47 percent had taken the booster.

Minister Rambukwella said that they observed a relatively lower number of 20-30 category having received the booster. Having failed to undermine the earlier phases of the inoculation drive, the social media seemed to have succeeded in their efforts, Minister Rambukwella said.

Referring to the increase in the number of reported cases and the challenge posed by Covid-19 variant, Omicron, Minister Rambukkwella explained the measures so far taken to counter the threat. According to him, depending on the requirement, home quarantine could be expanded.

The media was told the government decided to conduct religious ceremonies at vaccination centres on January 29 to invoke blessings on those who succumbed to Covid-19. Such activities will begin at the auspicious time 10.06 am and last less than one hour.

Minister Rambukwella said that the original plan was to conduct the main event at the Nelum Pokuna Theater.

Minister Rambukwella cited several instances of various interested parties interfering with the vaccination drive. Referring to an incident at a temple in Matale, the lawmaker said that he had no option but to obtain a court order against the chief incumbent of that temple and also request the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to take necessary action.

The Minister said that once the top management of a leading garment manufacturer objected to workers being vaccinated as it could hamper the manufacturing process. What they basically said was that if workers reported sick after vaccination the company wouldn’t be able to meet specific deadlines, Minister Rambukwella said, questioning their responsibility at a time the country faced a grave threat.

The Island raised the delay in giving the second dose for the 16-19 year category which included those scheduled to sit for the GCE Advanced Level examination early February. Dr. Gunawardena responded that specific instructions had been issued in that regard whereas children 12-15 were being inoculated now. The Island pointed out that inquiries made regarding the second dose for 16-19 year category revealed that the process was yet to begin. The media was told that the Health Ministry would inquire into the complaint and arrangements would be made for them to receive the second dose at vaccination centres on January 29.

Minister Rambukwella speculated on the possibility of bankrupt political parties being responsible for the ongoing organized campaign against the booster. Perhaps some believed the situation could be exploited for political gain at the expense of the government and the national economy.

Minister Ranatunga emphasized the responsibility on the part of the media to clearly present facts. Failure to do so would cause damage, the Aviation Minister said. Aeroflot decided against resumption of flights to Colombo primarily on the basis of misleading media reports.



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Delisting of Tamil Diaspora groups irks some; explanation sought

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Decision based on GoSL assurance given in Geneva last June

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera yesterday (14) said President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government should explain the rationale behind delisting several Tamil Diaspora groups and individuals.

“The timing of the government announcement really worries us,” Dr. Amarasekera said on behalf of the Federation of National Organizations (FNO). He said such moves couldn’t be simply justified on the basis of the forthcoming sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. The next UNHRC sessions are scheduled for September.

Recalling that he too strongly backed the stand taken by President Wickremesinghe with regard to US Ambassador Julie Chung’s opposition to measures the government adopted to counter violent protests, Dr. Amarasekera emphasised national security couldn’t be jeopardised by politically-motivated decisions.  The Defence and Foreign Ministries owed the public an explanation as regards the procedure adopted in delisting some Tamil diaspora groups and individuals.

The UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) had been among those delisted, through an Extraordinary Gazette issued by the Ministry of Defence.National Freedom Front (NFF) spokesperson Mohammed Muzammil, MP, too, echoed Dr. Amarasekera’s concerns. Addressing a hastily arranged media briefing at NFF’s Pita Kotte party office, lawmaker Muzammil asked whether the government had received an undertaking from those delisted groups, and individuals, whether they would abandon the separatist agenda. Lawmaker Muzammil said President Wickremesinghe, who holds the defence portfolio, should address the concerns of those who felt betrayed by the disputed de-listing of those who propagated separatist ideology though the armed forces eradicated the LTTE in 2009.

Both Dr. Amarasekera and MP Muzammil pointed out that Tamil Makkal Theshiya Kutani leader C.V. Vignewaran, following a recent meeting with President Wickremesinghe, had declared that he received an assurance with regard to several of their demands.  They asked whether the de-listing of these organizations, and individuals, had been part of the agreement between Tamil political parties and President Wickremesinghe.

The Island

sought the views of Suren Surendiran of the GTF, who is among those delisted. The UK-based GTF spokesperson alleged that the entire process of designation of groups and individuals was arbitrary, irrational, and an outright abuse of the United Nations Regulations – aimed at suppressing freedom of speech and dissent, not just within Sri Lanka but also across the borders.

 “GTF and I were listed in 2014, delisted in 2015, re-listed in 2021 and re-delisted in 2022,” Surendiran said, declaring they remained committed to their original ideals meant to achieve justifiable aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people, and implementation of the 2015 accountability resolution.

Surendiran has sent us the following response:   “Every time when a resolution is passed at the UNHRC, calling for Accountability and Reconciliation, the Rajapaksas, be it Mahinda or Gotabaya, will proscribe us as an angry reaction and then realise that no other government or international institution, including progressive Sri Lankans of all communities, and the wider media, recognise these proscriptions and just before another UNHRC session, the sitting government will de-proscribe us. This has been the case since 2014.”

“GTF is grateful that the international community and many Sri Lankan stakeholders (including the media) ignored this listing for what it truly was.

“We did an estimation on the loss of foreign currency inward flow into Sri Lanka directly related to these proscriptions of 2014 and 2021, at least per annum the loss has been USD 300 mn to   half a billion dollars.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary of Defence Kamal Gunaratne, Former Foreign Minister G L Peiris and the notorious so called “terrorism expert” Rohan Gunaratna must explain these losses to the Sri Lankan people and held accountable for their arbitrary decisions and explain what benefits these proscriptions achieved.”

Authoritative sources said that contrary to concerns expressed by various iparties as regards the delisting of organizations and certain individuals, the decision to do so was announced by the former Foreign Affairs Minister Prof GL Peiris in mid-June this year at the 50th Geneva sessions. The Foreign Ministry quoted Prof. Peiris as having said: “The list of designated individuals, groups and entities under the United Nations Regulation No. 1 of 2012 is being reviewed. As of now 318 individuals and 04 entitles are proposed to be delisted. This is a continuing exercise.”

Sources said that it wouldn’t be fair to seek explanation from the incumbent government for a decision taken by the previous administration.

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Govt. trying to impress UNHRC – Vigneswaran

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Tamil Peoples’ National Alliance (TPNA) leader MP C. V. Vigneswaran says President Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a hurry to rope in Tamil MPs w,ith an eye to the upcoming UNHRC session.

In a statement after meeting President Wickremesinghe the MP says: “He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1. Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.”

Full text of Wigneswaran’s statement: At the invitation of the President, I met his Excellency, along with our Party senior member Mr. S. Selvendra, at 4.30 PM, on 10th August 2022 at the Presidential Secretariat. The Prime Minister was also present.

The President explained to us at length his plan of governance which included a Parliamentary governance committee giving a greater role for the Provincial Governors. His idea was that all MPs from the Provinces must govern the respective Provinces under the Chairmanship of the Governors in terms of a National Agenda. He referred to Austria as an example. (His example was inappropriate. Austria is a Federal Country).

Further discussing grabbing of lands in Provinces by Central Government Ministries he agreed that there should be no forestry land that should be grabbed by Ministries and that we should focus on preserving the environment in each Province. He said, if need be a maximum of 2 acres could be taken over by the Government. I said no land should be appropriated by the Central Government in the Provinces except with the consent and concurrence of the respective Provincial Government. There was no response from His Excellency.

Regarding National Schools, he said 50 National Schools were enough for the Country not 1000 National Schools. I pointed out that no Provincial Schools could be taken over by the State and that our Alliance has already filed action in this regard.He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1.

He wanted me to share a document which outlines the proposal on how money could be channeled into the Country from the Diaspora.It became apparent to us while discussing with him that his plan was to strengthen the central administrative control of the entire country, totally ignoring the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

I pointed out to the President that the Tamil people in this country expect the government to take speedy action to attend to their requests, submitted by all Tamil National party leaders which included the release of political prisoners; action to trace the missing persons; stop the activities of various government departments to grab Tamil lands and stop persons trying to build Buddhist temples in Tamil homeland with the help of the Military and so on.

It was also pointed out that in order to enable the Tamils to give political leadership and governance over their Provinces, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented in full as a temporary measure until satisfactory constitutional reforms are made. We told the President that until this process is started in earnest satisfying the Tamil people, we will support the Government from the Opposition. There was no question of our becoming a part of the Government.

Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems.Nevertheless, we promised to forward the document he called for and took our leave to depart.

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 Arms, drug seizure from Lankan boat: Accused raised funds to revive LTTE, says NIA

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KOCHI: In a major revelation in a case pertaining to the seizure of a huge quantity of narcotic drugs along with five AK-47 rifles and 9mm ammunition numbering 1,000 from Sri Lankan fishing boats, the NIA has stated that an accused had been involved in activities of proscribed terrorist organisation LTTE within India and abroad.

The accused had also plotted to procure prohibited arms and ammunition, besides contraband articles. The NIA filed the report in the Kerala High Court in response to the bail plea filed by Ramesh, a Sri Lankan native and eighth accused in the case.

The Coast Guard intercepted the boat, ‘Ravihansi’, near Minicoy Island, Lakshadweep, on March 18, 2021. There were no proper documents and six Sri Lankan nationals found on board were arrested by the Kochi sub zone of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on their arrival at Vizhinjam port in Thiruvananthapuram.The Central government directed the NIA to take over the probe and later the seventh and his brother and eighth accused were taken into custody, allegedly for being members of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Ramesh revealed that he had stayed in India without a visa violating the provisions of the Foreigners Act.

According to NIA, Ramesh and the other accused, including his brother being a core cadre of the LTTE, held secret meetings and conspired to carry out illegal activities of trafficking in drugs and also arms and ammunition with the intention of raising funds to revive and further the activities of the LTTE, both in India and Sri Lanka, They formed a terrorist gang and transferred money through hawala channels for the procurement of drugs, arms and ammunition.

A witness in the case also spoke of the drug and hawala business carried out by the brothers and specifically referred to Ramesh having collected hawala money from a person named Faseel Bhai. While dismissing Ramesh’s bail plea, the court noted that the statements of the witnesses show not only his inextricable connection with the illegal activities but also his definite link with LTTE, with full knowledge and complicity in the attempt to smuggle heroin, arms and ammunition in the boat, intercepted before its entry into the port.

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