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Two years after Easter Sunday carnage, country on powder keg – Church

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‘Some of those suicide bombers are still at large…’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Catholic Church yesterday (28) warned the government of dire consequences unless tangible measures were taken to neutralize the continuing threat posed by 2019 Easter Sunday mastermind Zahran Hashim’s followers.

Serious threats remained even two years after the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, Rev Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, parish priest of St. Anne’s Church, Kurana, said in his Sunday sermon.

Reminding the congregation that the Katuwapitiya Church targeted by a Zahran follower was situated just a couple of miles away from St. Anne’s Church, Rev. Fernando said that in addition to those who had pledged to mount suicide attacks being still at large, there were religious extremists roaming the country and thousands of swords and draggers imported into the country in the run-up to the Easter carnage were still unaccounted for.

Rev. Fernando, a former spokesperson for the Church, said that places of religious worship as well as any other place frequented by the public could be targeted.

Referring to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the Easter bloodbath, Rev Father Fernando said that the Church was yet to be convinced that the government was on the right track to identify Easter Sunday architects.

The priest reiterated that the Catholic Church’s commitment to pursue the matter until the government apprehended all those allegedly involved in the conspiracy. Rev Fernando questioned the failure on the part of the government to take into custody Easter Sunday conspirators.

A dire warning as regards suicide bombers’ presence amidst the public was delivered close on the heels of the end of a three-day parliamentary debate on the Easter attacks with Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) urging the public not to target the entire community for heinous crime committed by a few.  SJB Colombo District lawmaker Mujibur Rahman appealed that the entire community shouldn’t be held accountable for the Easter Sunday carnage.

Rev Father Fernando said that special three hour prayer service would be conducted beginning 9 pm Sunday, March 28 in the churches in the Diocese of Colombo to underscore the need to take tangible measures against those responsible. Multiple blasts claimed the lives of 270 whereas 500 received injuries. A senior spokesperson for the Archbishop’s House told The Island that the Dioceses countrywide would back their initiative.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka recently demanded the release of the entire set of P CoI documents to Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, following a meeting Livera had with Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith where they discussed the government’s decision to hold back 22 volumes on the basis of threats to national security. In the wake of the Church protest, the President’s Office delivered the entire set to the AG.

Rev. Fernando said that the national security was at stake as long as the extremists retained an arsenal consisting of suicide cadres. The priest said that no one would be safe until they were apprehended.

Police investigations have revealed that those who took an oath before Zahran to mount suicide attacks in support of their macabre cause included some women.   

Lawmaker Rahman told The Island  that the government should make a genuine effort to solve the mysterious disappearance of Katuwapitiya suicide bomber Hasthun’s wife Sarah, who had been with Zahran group’s rump. “We are not satisfied with the government’s efforts to track down her against the backdrop of claims she fled to India with the help of those who conspired.”



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Covishield recipients in dilemma over second jab

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday (11) said that the ‘health administration’ hadn’t been able to reach a consensus on the second jab for those who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine first dose.

The government, both in and out of Parliament has acknowledged a shortfall of over 600,000 Covishield doses.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr Naveen de Zoysa told The Island contrary to various statements made over the past several days in that regard, health authorities hadn’t been able to take a decision, in case ongoing efforts at government level to procure a sufficient stock, failed. Responding to another query, the outspoken GMOA official said that they were in a quandary.

When The Island pointed out that the success of the vaccination programme, depended on the availability of the second dose within 12 to 16 weeks after the first, Dr. Zoysa said that some expressed the view it would be better to have the same in spite of a slight delay. Then others talked of a ‘vaccine mix’ or vaccine cocktail’ to meet the requirement, Dr. Zoysa said. However, at the moment, the issue at hand hadn’t been addressed, the GMOA spokesperson said.

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemic & Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday afternoon assured that the government was trying hard to obtain the required number of Oxford-AstraZeneca doses for the second jab.

The government launched the second round on April 28. The first round launched on January 29 was brought to an end on April 6.

GMOF (Government Medical Officers’ Forum) President Dr. Rukshan Bellana emphasized that the government owed an explanation to the public how it intended to solve  the issue at hand. Responding to The Island queries, Dr. Bellana said that the very purpose of the vaccination programme would be jeopardized if over 600,000 people couldn’t receive the second jab.

Dr. Bellana urged the government to reveal its response to the crisis without further delay. “We know, Sri Lanka received approximately 1,264,000 covishield doses from India in three separate consignments. Of them, half a million were a donation. Having used 927,000 for the first dose, the country had about 330,000 at the time the government launched the second round. We are now faced with over 600,000 shortfall. That is the undeniable truth,” Dr. Bellana said.

Appreciating the introduction of Chinese and Russian vaccines and efforts to procure US vaccine, too, Dr. Bellana said that those who had received covishield were really anxious whether the second dose could be received within the stipulated time.

The GMOF Chief said that the deepening health emergency in India shouldn’t be an excuse for those who turned a blind eye to the developing situation here. If the government made timely intervention, the situation wouldn’t have deteriorated so rapidly, Dr. Bellana said adding that the country was now paying a huge price for the government not taking tangible measures ahead of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera didn’t answer his hand phone.

Dr. Bellana alleged that influential persons had jumped the queue to secure the second covishield jab. The GMOF urged the government to look into that matter and ensure transparency in the process.

The Island also sought an explanation from Chief of Vaccination Plan Lalith Weeratunga, who is also President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s principal advisor regarding how the government intended to ensure the second jab. Weeratunga said that the government was in touch with three countries in that regard. “We are quite confident the required stock could be secured to meet the shortfall,” Weeratunga said, adding that in addition to 600,000 Sinopharm vaccines received from China free of charge, the country could get as much as 3 mn doses from Beijing. Referring to consensus with Russia to procure 13 mn doses, Weeratunga emphasized that Chinese and Russian vaccines were going to be Sri Lanka’s mainstay against the backdrop of the situation in India.

Weeratunga said that in spite of on and off setbacks, the government pursued a proper vaccination strategy. He said that the government was quite confident that by August-Sept a substantial percentage of people could be vaccinated.

 

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Johnston: Country will become a metropolis with efficient interconnected expressways

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Chairman of the RDA Chaminda Athaluwage handing over the contracts to the construction companies to develop the Pasyala to Kadugannawa section of the Colombo – Kandy road (A001), as per the instructions of Minister Johnston Fernando.

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando says that with a highly networked system of expressways covering important cities of the country making transport and travelling efficient Sri Lanka could be like one big metropolis in the  foreseeable future.

 Speaking to the media after a meeting with his Ministry officials to review the tender awarding process to private companies for the widening of the Kadugannawa to Pasyala section of the Colombo-Kandy road on Monday, Minister Fernando said plans had been completed to develop the particular stretch of 55.7 km in four phases with funds from the Asian Development Bank.

 The first phase of the project from Pasyala to Ambepussa covering 14.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,603 million. The estimated cost for the second section from Ambepussa to Kegalle covering 12.9 km is Rs 1,507 million. The third phase from Kegalle to Mawanella covering 13.9 km is planned to be developed at a cost of Rs 1,345 million while the cost of developing 14 kilometers in the fourth phase from Mawanella to Kadugannawa is estimated at Rs 1,630 million.

 Minister Fernando said that he had instructed the Secretary to the Ministry R.W.R. Pemasiri, and the Chairman of the Road Development Authority Chaminda Athaluwage to get the construction companies to complete the entire project within 18 months. A stretch covering 44.3 km from Colombo to Pasyala on the A001 Road has been widened and carpeted as of now.

 Minister Fernando said that infrastructure including the road development was continuing at an unprecedented speed as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour programme to provide people with better roads and boost the country’s economic development. “There is no economic development without infrastructure development and in that regard a highly developed road network is a must,” the Minister said.

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Illegal withdrawal of Rs 43 mn, using forged cheques:

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Another suspect arrested, CID looking for three more persons

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Another person wanted in connection with an ongoing inquiry into the fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 43 mn from the account of a leading steel manufacturer at the Sampath Bank has been arrested.

With the latest arrest, altogether five persons have been taken into custody. Police spokesman DIG (Legal) Ajith Rohana said that among the arrested was a bank employee, who masterminded the ‘operation.’

Asked whether the money had been recovered, DIG Rohana said that investigators recovered a part of it. “We are looking for three more persons who withdrew money, using forged cheques,” DIG Rohana said.

The Police Spokesman said the three remaining persons too had been identified. According to the DIG, five persons had withdrawn money from six branches of the same bank at the behest of  the bank employee, and the person who printed counterfeit cheques, to withdraw money amounting to Rs 43 mn belonging to steel manufacturer Melwa. The police identified the counterfeit cheque printer as a resident of Hanwella.

DIG Rohana said that those who had been sent to the different branches of the same bank wore clothes identifying them as Melwa employees.

Though the large sum was withdrawn fraudulently on April 12, the day before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the company remained unaware of the heist until the re-opening of  its main office after the April holidays, he said.

 The Police Spokesman said that a wider investigation was required to ascertain printing of counterfeit cheques and the role played by the bank employee. DIG Rohana said that against the backdrop of the counterfeit cheque case, both state and private sector banks would have to take tangible measures to prevent similar frauds.

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