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Kinniya UC chairman blamed for ferry disaster



By Saman Indrajith

Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure State Minister, Nimal Lanza, yesterday, in Parliament, said that the Kinniya Urban Council Chairman, who is the brother-in-law of SLMC Batticaloa District MP Imran Maharoof, was responsible for the tragedy in Kinniya which claimed six lives on Tuesday.

Minister Lanza said that the government had not issued any permits for a ferry service in the Kurinchenkerni lagoon. The regional politicians, using their political power, had operated the ferry service and many lives had been lost due to the actions of the Urban Council Chairman. Minister Lanza said, requesting the Governor of the Eastern Province to remove the UC chairman concerned from office and take disciplinary action against him.

Making a special statement in Parliament State Minister Lanza said: “We extend our condolences to the victims and family members of this disaster. We also wish speedy recovery of those who are in the hospital owing to this tragic accident. People in Kinniya had suffered for a long time because they did not have a bridge across the Kurinchenkerni lagoon. Some had used boats for their travel across the lagoon. Following the requests from the people, several ministers of the yahapalana government went there and placed foundation stones several times. Yet they could not construct the bridge. After we came to power we laid the foundation stone to construct the bridge on April 10, 2021. There had been a meeting on Nov 24, 2020 at the Kinniya Divisional Secretariat where permission was granted to use a three and half km long road as an alternative route until the bridge is completed. That decision had been made by the political authorities of the Urban Council and Members of the Pradeshiya Sabhas of the area. While people were using that alternative route the political authority gave permission for the operation of the ferry.

“When the Kinniya Pradeshiya Sabha asked for permission from the Road Development Authority that request was turned down because it was not safe. The RDA also turned down a request by Kinniya Urban Council for the use of a barge because it was unsafe. It is after that the Urban Council had issued the permit on its own. The permit had been issued to a businessman. There are safety measures to be followed when operating a ferry service. These operators have not even provided a life jacket to the passengers. I state that the first person responsible for this tragedy is the chairman of the Kinniya Urban Council. It was he who arrogated power to himself to grant the permit while the government and the officials continuously rejected the requests for a permit. A question has been raised in parliament on July 14, 2021 seeking the approval for the ferry service and in response to that we instructed the contracting company to expedite the work on the bridge. As per the request of people and MPs a decision was made to consider the start of a ferry service and RDA was planning to commence a proper ferry service with safety precautions but the urban council chairman by the name of Riyaz, who is the brother in law of SJB MP Imran Maharoof, issued a permit on his own. MP Maharoof too was involved in commencing the ferry service. The urban council has no powers to start a ferry service in this manner. I table all the documents with regard to this process which violated many regulations. It is wrong for the opposition to try to place the blame at our doorstep. We call on the President, the Prime Minister, and Minister in charge of police, and the IGP to investigate this incident. I also call on the Governor Eastern Province to suspend this chairman immediately and to take disciplinary action against him. It was he who should pay for this crime and loss of lives of innocent people by his imprudent act of assuming powers not belonging to his post to give a permit for the operation of the ferry.”

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GL explains to UN Special Rapporteur Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare



Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has explained to UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, including its causes and consequences, Tomoya Obokata, Sri Lanka’s progress related to labour welfare and the constructive steps taken by the government to eradicate child labour.

The Minister also elaborated on steps taken to bring our labour laws in line with international standards in a number of areas, including child labour, migrant workers and debt bondage. The Special Rapporteur commended Sri Lanka on the progress made with regard to making Sri Lanka a ‘child labour free zone’.

The UN official called on Prof. Peiris on Friday, 26 November, at the Foreign Ministry.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes but is not limited to issues such as: traditional slavery, debt bondage, forced labour, children in slavery and slavery-like conditions, sexual slavery, forced and early marriages as well as issues faced by migrant workers and foreign labour.

The Foreign Minister outlined that Sri Lanka was conscious of protecting vulnerable labour groups and emphasized that Sri Lanka will continue to cooperate with the United Nations system. He stated that visits by Special Procedures Mandate Holders have been helpful in enhancing understanding of the specificities of Sri Lanka’s experiences in related fields as well as in improving domestic processes to be in line with our international commitments.

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More gas explosions



Two women injured

By Rathindra Kuruwita

There were 11 new explosions related to domestic gas cylinders in the 24 hours that ended at 12 noon yesterday. Among the areas these explosions were reported are Agama, Karana, Hungnam, Walasmulla, Kundasale, Katugastota, Dimbula and Giriulla.

Two women have been injured in these latest explosions. In some instances, the gas cooker wasn’t even on when the explosions happened.

Meanwhile, Litro has introduced the hotline, 1311, for the public to make any complaints with regard to their gas cylinders. Once a complaint is received, a team of technicians will arrive and check the cylinder, the company said.

Litro also urged the public not to try any experiments to see if the cylinders are safe.

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Countries tighten travel rules to slow Omicron spread



Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced tighter travel restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would expand travel curbs, and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk, news agencies reported.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Malaysia temporarily barred travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travellers to the US were set to face tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday that the US would require all air travellers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant among travellers who had arrived from South Africa in the past week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said late on Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first reported cases in Latin America. A traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is battling a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It also reported the highest number of deaths from coronavirus since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned that the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, above the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, vulnerable or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global health officials have offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.

The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine distribution programme for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to December 13.

Britain, the US and European countries have expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between substantial vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

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