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More tourist flights from Ukraine despite lockdown



SLPP Chairman: ‘Economic recovery efforts underway…’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Tourism Ministry yesterday (14) said that a pilot project to bring in over 2,000 Ukrainian tourists was on track in spite of the partial lockdown of Ukraine, ministry sources told The Island.

The government in consultation with relevant authorities here and in Ukraine would continue with the high profile project, sources said, adding that in spite of some delays the flights were coming in.

When The Island pointed out that international media reported a two-week long countrywide lockdown in Ukraine commencing January 8 — a day after the widely celebrated Eastern Orthodox Christmas holiday, sources said that both Ukrainian International Airline and Sky Up operated flights to Mattala.

Sources said that the Ukrainian International Airline flight that had been scheduled to arrive in Mattala yesterday (14) would fly in today (15) along with a previous scheduled Sky Up flight.

In terms of an arrangement worked out by one-time Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Moscow Udayanga Weeratunga, Sky Up operated its first flight from Kiev on Dec 28, 2020. Of the 12 scheduled flights, Sky up would do eight and the rest by Ukrainian International Airline.

Of those dozen flights, two would be operated on January 22 and 24 after the re-opening of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on January 21.

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told a meeting in Moneragala on Wednesday (13) so far approximately 1,200 Ukrainian tourists arrived in the country. In spite of the Opposition warning of a catastrophe, only two visitors had been tested Covid-19 positive, Minister Ranatunga said, in spite of initial hiccups, they were able to manage the project in line with health guidelines.

The SLPP Gampaha District Leader said that the pilot project had enabled them to identify shortcomings and take remedial measures in preparation for the BIA opening.

Minister Ranatunga emphasized that tourist trade couldn’t be allowed to collapse as over 3 million people depended on it. Questioning the Opposition political strategy, Minister Ranatunga said that perhaps some of those opposed to government efforts weren’t really aware of the ground situation.

SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris said that tourism revival plan was a part the overall measures adopted by the government to restore national economy. Comparing strategies implemented during the first Covid-19 wave in early part of 2020 and the second that erupted in Oct, Prof. Peiris said that tourism, garment trade and foreign remittances suffered gravely due to restrictions that had to be imposed for the safety and security of the people.

Pointing out that the restoration of tourism had to be gradual and in line with health guidelines in place, the Minister said, that the country should really appreciate the Ukrainians coming here. The SLPP Chairman said that it was a message to the world struggling to cope up with the rampaging pandemic.

Prof. Peiris pointed out that the Opposition expected the government to do nothing. What would have happened if the government indefinitely put off Year 5 Scholarship and the GCE Advanced Level examination late last year? Similarly, various interested parties tried to sabotage efforts to re-open schools, the Minister said, the government couldn’t just allow Covid-19 to derail ambitious projects undertaken by the SLPP in Nov, 2019.

The electorate overwhelmingly voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the presidential and the SLPP at the parliamentary polls as they believed in the new administration. Covid-19 had affected government plans but every effort would be made to overcome challenges, the SLPP Chairman said.

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Cardinal: Was there any link between passage of 20A and Easter Sunday probe outcome?



… stands by his claim of foreign involvement

By Norman Palihawadana

Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith yesterday said that there could be a connection between the outcome of the probe into the Easter Sunday attacks and the enlisting of Muslim MPs’ support for the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The Cardinal said: “The leader of a Muslim political party voted against the 2Oth Amendment. But his MPs voted for it. The brother of Rishad Bathiudeen too was released around the same time. These are questionable developments. These events could be part of a deal.”

The Cardinal reiterated that international forces were behind the Easter Sunday attacks and that he did not believe that there had been any local political group directly involved in the Easter attacks.

Addressing the media yesterday, the Cardinal said that the remarks he made on Sunday had been misunderstood. He stood by his claim that international forces had been behind the attacks, he said.

“However, some people claim that I said a local political group was behind the attack. I have always maintained that there are international forces that use religious and ethnic extremists such as Wahabists to create conflicts. I was referring to such groups.”

The Cardinal added that only a small group of Muslims was involved in extremism.

The Archbishop also said that former President Maithripala Sirisena believed that taking action against extremists like NTJ leader Zahran Hashim would create unnecessary issues.

“Something along these lines is also in the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks. The report also implies that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was lenient in dealing with growing extremism in Sri Lanka.”

The Cardinal urged the government to protect the country and ensure that there would be no repeats of incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Archbishop of Colombo requested all religious leaders to work on rebuilding trust among all communities.



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AG appeals to Supreme Court against granting of bail to Ravi, others



The Attorney General yesterday appealed to the Supreme Court against bail for former Minister Ravi Karunanayake and seven others indicted in the bond case by the Colombo Special High Court Trial-at-Bar.

The eight accused were arrested and remanded over the bond scams. Later, they were released on bail.

The court warned that if the accused attempted to exert influence on the witnesses, by any means, bail would be revoked and they would be placed on remand until the end of the trial.



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26 more coronavirus cases detected in Jaffna Tirunelveli market area



Another 26 COVID-19 cases had been detected on Sunday, from the Tirunelveli Market in Jaffna, which was the epicentre of the recent outbreak in the town, Dr. A. Kethiswaran, Regional Director Health Services told the media yesterday.

The market and its surroundings had been reopened on April 11 following a 19-day lockdown. However, 378 PCR tests were conducted after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and 26 of them proved positive.

Dr. Kethiswaran warned last week that there might be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Jaffna after the New Year celebrations.

A large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported in Jaffna in the past few weeks. Thus, the people should adhere to health guidelines. If people did not follow the guidelines, there would be a spike in cases and then some places would have to be lockdown, he warned.

“It’s too early to say whether we have to close the area down. We are monitoring the situation,” DR. Kethiswaran said.

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