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SL should not stop trading with Moscow to please Washington, London – Ranil

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Sri Lanka should not be stopped from trading with Russia because placing sanctions on Russia is something that the US and UK want, United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Thursday at a meeting with a group of youth activists.

Wickremesinghe said: “The war in Ukraine will affect everyone and there is a lot of potential in Asia to overcome the challenges posed by war and western sanctions.

“Firstly, no one wants SWIFT and other such tools to be used as a political weapon. If the US and UK want to place sanctions against Russia, that is their business. But we should not be stopped from trading with Russia and others. We live in a globalised economy, but we have agreed that the West would run the system. But if the system is going to be used for political purposes, where we lose, then I think Asia has to look at another system. China is starting a China-centric one, some of the others may not want a China-centric one, but will want one that is acceptable to all. I think Africa may also join it. That is where the power is. The West is losing that power it had,” he said.

When this confrontation comes to an end, Indonesia, which is the chair of the G20 and is also where the first Asian conference was held, should get together with China, India, and the UAE to summon a conference of all Asian nations and re-invent Asia. Indonesia was the country that hosted the Bandung Conference, and so they should take the lead and call for such a conference, he said.

Asia must step in and ensure the war in Ukraine does not reach global proportions, Wickremesinghe said, adding that while most countries around the world agree that Russia invaded Ukraine, they do not approve of what the West has done.

“The fact is Asia is silent. The African Union has also not taken part, Brazil and Argentina have supported the US but the Mexicans have stayed out. Asia hasn’t condemned Russia the way America expected them to. They have raised issues with the invasion. In the Security Council India, China and the UAE are all silent. They were non-committal. Indonesia, the leader of the G20 is non-committal. Pakistan is also going around Russia. So it looks like most of Asia is going along with Russia. Now that is what is important, because Asia counts today. Everyone is neglecting this, nobody wants to report it,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said that Asian countries do not want to be affected by a war that can cause global economic fallout. Despite many problems among them, Asian countries have ensured that they do not escalate into full blown war.

“Therefore, the Asian view is that we cannot only allow the West to decide the rules of the world. Asia must come in, and that is a view I have, and many others have. The Government of Sri Lanka has been non-committal like all the others, such as Bangladesh. Some of them who have commented have not said who has invaded whom, the invasions are bad, and the war must stop. This is what the media is not highlighting, because the West cannot accept that Asia today is also calling the shots,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka exports low country and mid-grown tea to countries such as Russia. Due to the war a lot of the low-grown and mid-grown smallholders’ families will be having problems. Factory holders too will be affected, and this will become a serious issue for Sri Lanka.

Ukraine is basically a part of the old Soviet Union and Russians think of Ukraine like we think of Kandy, the UNP leader said. Wickremesinghe said that the war between Russia and Ukraine could have been prevented

“There were problems between Russia and Ukraine because NATO wanted to bring in missiles, and that is part of the old Soviet Union territory, which they should not have done. This went on for some time, and then there is the famous case of Russians taking over Crimea, which originally belonged to them and then they got into Donbas and other areas,” he said.

Wickremesinghe added that President Obama and President Trump did not make Ukraine an issue, but President Biden’s foreign policy seems to be to take on both Russia and China. He wants to be the defender of the Western Order, Wickremesinghe said.

“Especially President Trump reached out and had a good rapport with President Putin. Now after President Biden came in, his foreign policy seems to be to take on both Russia and China. Recently Russia and China signed an agreement which is called the “no-limit friendship”, which is a friendship without limits and boundaries or prohibitions. Thereafter Russia was emboldened further to ask that nuclear missiles not be put in Ukraine and Ukraine should not become a member of NATO. The U.S. and U.K., not the other NATO members, tried to play their own game and corner Russia and make Russia back down by getting Ukraine to say they want to be part of NATO. They expected Putin to climb down. Putin thought was ready, or thought he was ready, and he invaded Ukraine. So the real issue is about the security of Russia and what are they going to do. They took the West and the Americans by surprise,” he said.

Wickremesinghe added that the sanctions against Russia will not deter them. Sanctions are the only tool available to the West because they are not prepared to fight the Russians. The West has also removed Russian banks from SWIFT and both President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson are acting tough because of domestic politics, the UNP leader said.

“President Biden also is in a problematic area. (Former) President Trump says he knew how to deal with Putin and handle Ukraine. So, he (Biden) had to show he can bring results, and he needs to bring results quickly because he is going to lose in the midterm elections. So, he is pushing hard on the sanctions thinking Russia will come down and he can save himself. Basically, many of the issues will be domestic issues, and the Republicans won’t be unhappy if the Russians stay on in Ukraine a bit longer because they can get the advantage of it. The third man with elections is President Macron of France. But he is playing a different role, he is showing that he can talk to Russia, he can talk to the West, and he can talk to China. So, he is telling the Frenchmen that if you remove me you will not have a leader who is recognised globally. So, he is playing a different game to the other two. The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also having elections and he is also upping his stakes to show he can be tough on China. But all this means is that we do not know where this will end. They are playing for their politics, and this will bring the global economy down,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said that China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and the Central Asian republics would help Russia.” These are all members of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, and the events of the past week have shown that the Organisation has held together. On the other hand, although India is a part of the Quad, it has not taken the same line as the US.”



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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