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Probe X-Press Pearl disaster against backdrop of Port City and Selendiva  projects – Church spokesperson

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Catholic Church was quite concerned about the long-term impact of the sinking of the container carrier X-Press Pearl off the Colombo port, Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando said yesterday.

The ecological disaster the ill-fated ship had caused couldn’t be compensated for with a one-off payment, Rev Father Fernando said, urging the government to set the record straight.

Responding to The Island queries, the parish priest of Kurana St Anne’s Church said that he had raised the possibility of a conspiracy to deprive the fishing community of their livelihood when he addressed the media last week at the Archbishop’s House alongside the Archbishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

The arrival of the ill-fated vessel in Sri Lankan waters on May 19 and its sinking two weeks later underscored the need for a comprehensive inquiry, Rev Fernando said.

According to the former Spokesperson for the Catholic Church, the X-Press Pearl disaster should be examined, also taking into consideration the recent passage of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill in Parliament and the Cabinet approval for Selendiva Investments Ltd. to facilitate foreign investments in Colombo and its suburbs.

Noting the concerns raised by the Opposition and the government’s assurance that properties wouldn’t be sold to external parties, Rev Fernando said that the people should watch the direction the SLPP government was moving in. Government intervention in Muthurajawela wetlands, too, was a matter of serious concern, Rev Fernando said, calling for a public discussion on high profile government projects.

Selendiva has taken over three ventures—Hotel Developers (Lanka) PLC, which is the owning company of Hilton Colombo, Canwill Holdings Ltd., owners of the proposed Grand Hyatt Colombo and residences that are under construction and Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH). Accordingly, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his capacity as the Minister of Urban Development and Housing  has secured cabinet approval to move ahead with three investment portfolios—’Colombo Fort Heritage Square’, ‘Immovable Property Development’, and ‘The Government — Owned Hospitality Sector’, under Selendiva Investments.  Former UDA Chairman Nimal Perera heads Selendiva Investments.

Successive governments had advanced their own agendas at the expense of national interest, Rev Fernando said, urging the proponents of such current projects to explain whether the previous exercises had benefited the country.  “The Covid-19 prevention programme is obviously in turmoil,” Rev Fernando said, dismissing claims that the Church caused unnecessary friction by taking a public stand on the issues at hand.

Rev Fernando said that the Church couldn’t keep quiet when the livelihood of thousands of fisher families already struggling to make ends meet due to Covid-19 fallout were deprived of an opportunity to resume fishing. Inclement weather had affected more people with over 200,000 displaced and caused over a dozen deaths, Rev Fernando said.

He said the public appreciated the stand taken up by the Church as regards several contentious issues ranging from inordinate delay in punishing those who masterminded the Easter Sunday massacre and denial of the sole livelihood of fisher families.



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Strong earthquake hits south-eastern Turkey near Syria border

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BBC reported that a powerful earthquake has hit Gaziantep in south-eastern Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude tremor struck at 04:17 local time (01:17 GMT) at a depth of 17.9km (11 miles) near the city of Gaziantep.

The quake was felt in the capital Ankara and other Turkish cities, and also across the region.

Reports are coming in that several buildings have collapsed, and a number of people may be trapped.

A BBC Turkish correspondent in Diyarbakir reports that a shopping mall in the city collapsed.

Rushdi Abualouf, a BBC producer in the Gaza Strip, said there was about 45 seconds of shaking in the house he was staying in.

Turkish seismologists estimated the strength of the quake to be 7.4 magnitude.

They said that a second tremor hit the region just minutes later.

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13 A: Political parties miss Ranil’s Feb. 04 deadline for submitting their proposals

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Udaya compares constitutional threat with Indonesian crisis in late ’90s

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The government hasn’t received proposals from political parties regarding President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s decision to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully.

President Wickremesinghe, on January 26, requested party leaders to furnish their suggestions, if any, by Feb. 04 as he intended to brief Parliament on Feb. 08 as regards the implementation of land and police powers.

Political parties, represented in Parliament, had not responded to President Wickremesinghe’s request so far, authoritative sources told The Island. Responding to another query, sources said that the President’s Office hadn’t received proposals in support of President Wickremesinghe’s declaration or against it.

Several political parties, including the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) spurned the President’s invitation.

Having declared his intention to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Nov. 1987, during Thai Pongal celebrations, in Jaffna, on January 15th, 2023, President Wickremesinghe warned party leaders on January 26 he would go ahead with plans unless the parliament repealed it. Both declarations were made in the presence of Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Sources noted that though several political parties declared opposition and some issued statements supportive of the President’s move, they haven’t submitted proposals in writing.

President Wickremesinghe prorogued Parliament, on January 27, the day after setting Feb. 04 as the deadline for political parties to submit proposals. The new session of Parliament begins on Feb. 08.Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary, Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, told The Island that the decision to fully implement the controversial amendment shouldn’t be taken hastily.

“We are certainly not opposed to the devolution of power. However, we cannot under any circumstances support an agenda that may cause chaos,” National List MP said.

The Attorney-at-Law said so when The Island asked him whether the ruling party submitted its proposals to President Wickremesinghe.The lawmaker said that there was no requirement to do so as he on behalf of the SLPP explained to the January 26 meeting chaired by President Wickremesinghe why 13th Amendment shouldn’t be fully implemented without examining the ground situation.

“Seven past Presidents didn’t do that. Why didn’t they do so? We’ll have to study why they refrained from granting police and land powers in spite of them being part of that Amendment. If the reasons that compelled them not to do so no longer exist, we can consider the proposals,” lawmaker Kariyawasam said.

Declaring SLPP’s commitment to maximum possible devolution, MP Kariyawasam warned of dire consequences if decisions were made on the basis of language and religion.The SLPP that secured 145 seats at the last general election remains the largest party in parliament though over two dozen MPs quit the government group.

MP Kariyawasam emphasized that they couldn’t act recklessly on the issue at hand.Those who quit the SLPP parliamentary group, too, have strongly opposed the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, compared the developing crisis here with Western project that divided Indonesia in the late 90s.Attorney-at-Law Gammanpila explained how Western countries exploited the economic crisis in Indonesia to compel Jakarta to grant independence to East Timor.

Addressing a public rally at Dehiwela on Feb. 02  in support of Nidahas Janatha Sandhanaya contesting March 09 Local Government polls, former Power and Energy Minister said that the challenge faced by Sri Lanka owing to the continuing balance of payments and debt crises was very much similar to the circumstances leading to East Timor independence.

The 13th Amendment would split Sri Lanka on ethnic lines, the Colombo District MP warned.The MP recalled how external powers created an environment that compelled Indonesian President Suharto to resign in May 1998 to pave the way for Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri to win the next presidential election. The MP said that Sukarnoputri granted independence to East Timor.

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Gas prices up

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State-owned Litro has increased the price of domestic gas with effect from midnight yesterday.

Chairman of Litro Company Muditha Peiris said the price of a 12.5 kg domestic gas cylinder would be increased by Rs 334, the price of a 5 kg gas cylinder by Rs 135 and the price of a 2.3 kg gas cylinder by Rs 61 .The 12.5 kg cylinder is Rs 4,743.

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