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SLPP rebels step up pressure on PM to resign

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‘Govt. won’t survive by accommodating turncoats’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List member Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (20) said that the Cabinet of Ministers, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa should resign without further delay to facilitate a consensual political settlement or face the consequences.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga issued the warning on behalf of the SLPP dissident grouP, comprising about 40 members, at a media briefing at Dr. N.M. Perera Centre.

Cumaratunga, who heads a civil society organisation, emphasized that resignation of the entire Cabinet was a prerequisite for an agreement with political parties represented in Parliament.

At the onset of the media briefing, MP Cumaratunga regretted Tuesday’s incidents at Rambukkana where one person lost his life and two dozen protesters and law enforcement personnel received injuries. The MP said the dissident group abhorred violence regardless who the perpetrator was.

Declaring that the new Cabinet appointments wouldn’t make any difference, MP Cumaratunga urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to consider their proposals dated April 08. The first time Parliament entrant said that the political turmoil could be addressed by forming an interim or caretaker government. Cabinet portfolios and state ministries should be shared among those political parties agreeable to the strategy, the MP said, underscoring the need to do away with the 20th Amendment and bring in a new Amendment with features of the 19th Amendment.

Unfortunately, instead of taking tangible measures to resolve the crisis, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had sought to appease those who voted for the 20th Amendment by accommodating them in the cabinet of ministers and as State Ministries.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga declared that what was happening in the name of parliamentary democracy was nothing but a tragedy. The Yuthukama chief questioned the ministerial portfolios offered to turncoats in a despicable bid to protect the SLPP government’s simple majority in Parliament.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga rapped the SLPP over the state ministerial portfolios granted to Diana Gamage (SJB National List), Shantha Bandara (SLFP) as well as Dr. Suren Raghavan (SLFP).

Instead of settling the crisis, the government was engaged in a desperate project to save the administration, MP Cumaratunga said.

Alleging that some of those who had been critical of the government such as Vidura Wickremanayake had been accommodated, MP Cumaratunga alleged that the government was not sensitive to the crisis and pursued a strategy inimical to the country.

The Yuthukama Chief said that a political settlement couldn’t be worked out unless the Prime Minister quit. Referring to a recent meeting chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, MP Cumaratunga said that the majority of party leaders were of the view that the time was not opportune to introduce a new Constitution. The MP said that the only way forward was an interim administration or a caretaker government with specific responsibility to stabilize and revive the economy before elections could be held to allow the electorate a free hand.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga explained their efforts to rectify the 20th Amendment, particularly the issue over the controversial provision that allowed US passport holder Basil Rajapaksa to enter Parliament in July last year.

The MP said that the incumbent dispensation paid a huge price for ignoring their concerns. He reiterated that the current turmoil could have been avoided if the top leadership heeded their advice.

The the country was in such a precarious situation the government could not play politics with the issues at hand in a bid to revive its hold, he said.



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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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