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United We Stand!

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By Sanja de Silva Jayatilleka

A remarkable thing came out of all the suffering of the Sri Lankan people over the past few months. It united them across ethnic, religious and class divides in their despair, with their living standards taking a steep dive as the government mangled the economy. As people’s lives turned to misery in long queues, and livelihoods were lost due to no fault of their own, the ruling classes grew ever more distant from the people.

The people in turn, divided for decades by political manipulations of their insecurities, stood as one against the perpetrators of this economic crime against citizens. They stood most united in their anger and frustration against what they saw as the primary source of their sudden plunge into misfortune and pointed their collective finger at the President, to whom they suggested, not so politely, that he had to go.

The suffering masses took to the streets with a single slogan, never before articulated against any head of state of this country. And in this desperation, the slogans arising from hunger, weariness, and helpless resentment were blind to all the differences between the communities, their collective frustration bringing them together as no lavishly foreign funded NGOs and INGOs could achieve for the last 10 years after the war. They saw clearly that the government was indiscriminately insensitive and uncaring towards all.

It was as if the country had decided on a reset, all the way back to the movement for Independence from the colonial rulers when the elites of all ethnicities, religions and classes worked as one for the country’s dignity and self-respect. 74 years later, they are together again, this time the whole people, standing as one against a different kind of tyranny. May the people never forget the power that they generate together, visible in all the spontaneous, courageous protests that are springing all over the country.

The Rajapaksa name, beloved, revered or feared ever since the war ended in victory for the state, is now mud. From Melbourne to Paris, from Geneva and Tokyo to London and California, the Sri Lankan diaspora deeply divided along ethnic lines at one time, are joining in solidarity with the protesting citizens of their country with one voice, demanding that the Rajapaksas are sent packing en masse. Sri Lankans everywhere are impatient to be rescued from the disproportionate number of them occupying seats of power in this administration.

The Rajapaksas in government who owned 75% of the total budget allocation, are now also expected to own 75% of the consequent problem. They are past being seen as any kind of solution or part of one.

Mirihana, who’d have thought?

Mirihana, a quiet suburb of Colombo, was happy in its anonymity. It became better known when Gotabaya became President and continued to live at his residence in a lane off the main road. On the last day of March 2022 however, Mirihana was to play a catalytic role in Sri Lanka’s modern history. Mirihana was where the people’s spontaneous movement against the government suddenly and unexpectedly took off, reaching a tipping point as the candle-light peaceful protest was joined by residents from adjacent areas.

As the swelling crowds marching towards the President’s lane chanting the now leading slogan demanding departure began to be covered by the TV stations and live feeds to social media, there was already a growing sense that something had turned a corner, that there was no going back from this. And so it was. After Mirihana, the deluge. The genie was out, and will not be put back in the bottle.

The subsequent violence in Mirihana, the burning vehicles, clearly not emanating from the residents of the area, the police brutality towards the protesters and journalists covering the event– meant as warning– has not cowed the citizens, already in such distress that nothing is likely to deter them anymore. Instead, it was soon to be used by the government as an excuse to clamp down on the growing number of planned protests.

Inspired by Mirihana, protests started all over other cities and towns. More were being organized as the simmering tensions building along main roads where the middle classes were protesting in silence were reaching a peak. Social media played its role in urging people to come out and stand on the nearest main road with Sunday, the 3rd of April being declared a Day of Protest. The movement was gathering momentum, the people had lost their respect for the regime and more pertinently, their fear of the authorities, and openly agitated for the regime to step down.

With just a day to go for the Day of Protest, the government decided to roll out their response. The repression began.

There was always the potential for repression from this particular administration, different from previous administrations as they poured an unprecedented percentage of the national budget into the military, while transforming the public sector through appointments of retired military personnel into its key positions. This didn’t go unnoticed by either the people of Sri Lanka or the international community keeping a close eye on the administration already facing accusations of human rights violations internationally.

The regime besieged only by public opinion, blind to the actual suffering of the people clearly visible to anyone who gave a damn, suddenly gazetted emergency regulations which went beyond anything issued before in this blessed isle which had seen two violent insurrections and a thirty-year war. The gazette was amusingly detailed in its prohibition of the people from being on the seashore, in parks, recreation or other grounds, in railways and public roads until Monday the 6th. While the people slept, the city was saturated with military personnel carrying guns and barriers put up at strategic points all over the city.

When a regime fears its unarmed citizens weakened by economic hardships, fears them enough to deploy men in uniform carrying guns to guard themselves, they have clearly lost the plot, and are moving inexorably towards a predictable destiny, not to their liking.

The single most important barrier that had been erected by all regimes to date, which has now been breached by the people, is the disunity among the people of Sri Lanka. That barrier went up in flames largely thanks to this regime’s economic policies. In unity they have found strength and power, generating a momentum beyond their wildest expectations, inspiring renewed hope in the strangely resilient spirit of the people of this island, who refuse to be defeated as their determination grows with every repressive measure.

Already, the curfew has been broken all over the country, protests have taken place even though not on the scale planned and the people have sent a credible message. They want change. The diaspora is clamouring equally stridently, in cities around the world in large numbers, making up for the restrictions imposed at home, strengthening the sense of Sri Lankan community, globally as well as locally. It’s a great feeling. It’s not one that Sri Lanka will easily let go off.

The unity forged in desperate times, may yet prove to be the making of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan politics with its dark underside of divisive messaging, will have to adapt to this positive change as it faces the challenge of saving the country from the ruinous path it has been on. The people will expect nothing less, and have now seen that they can insist on it. Together they have taken on a powerful government, which showed no empathy. As they stand united fighting, they don’t plan to fall.



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Opinion

Our long-forgotten friend can help mitigate impact of fuel shortage

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The importance of the bicycle as a mode of transportation is seemingly re-emerging in Sri Lanka. This sudden drive is mainly attributable to the ongoing economic crisis the country is faced with. The forex crisis, together with ever increasing fuel prices, has made the Sri Lankans remember their long-forgotten friend––the bicycle.

We see more and more people taking to cycling today for their daily activities out of desperation more than anything else. However, this trend needs to be encouraged not only for its economic benefits but also for its health, environmental, social (and many other) advantages.

The benefits of promoting cycling

Economic

– The economics of transportation has become a major woe. The main energy source used today in transportation in Sri Lanka is fossil fuel. This amounts to 2,081 Mn USD (or 64 % of the total fuel cost of the country) a year. In terms of percentage spending of the total foreign imports, this amounts to a whopping 10.3 %. (Source: Kumarage AS, Repositioning Sri Lanka’s Transport and Logistics Sector to lead the Economic Recovery in Sri Lanka, Organization of Professionals’ Association Journal, April 2022). By promoting the use of bicycles, we can expect to reduce a sizable amount of this colossal expenditure.

Cycling is also known to be conducive to the small-scale trader, as he comes in contact with the cyclists more often than the motorists. Thus, cycling will positively influence the small-scale economy of the country as well.

Health

– A number of studies have shown that cycling reduces the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as Acute Myocardial Infarction, Coronary Heart Disease, Cerebro Vascular Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, stress and many psychological diseases. Cycling, while improving the overall health of the people, will also reduce the healthcare costs, appreciably in the long term.

Environmental

– Increased use of fossil fuels for transportation has in turn become one of the leading causes of environmental pollution, global warming and climate change, the world over, three of the major calamities the world has come to be plagued with today. By cycling we can reduce air pollution by reducing the noxious gases, such as carbon oxides, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, benzene and particulate matter. It also reduces noise pollution, and helps in mitigating global warming and climate change.

Social

– Cycling is also known to promote social interactions among people by encouraging networking and collaborations between them. This will influence the social health of the community positively.

The activities proposed

– The programme to promote cycling should be implemented, as a pilot project, with the participation of the state sector employees in some selected districts. Depending on the success thereof, it could be extended to the other sectors and districts.

1. As the first step towards promoting cycling nationwide, we propose that it be promoted among the state employees as their main mode of travel (to work). In this regard, we propose that they be paid an incentive in keeping with the distance they cover.

2. Bicycles could also be used by those who live far away from their workplace; they can cycle to the main bus or railway station. In both these situations, the cyclists should be paid accordingly.

3. Cyclists should be provided with facilities for bathing and changing at workplaces.

4. The government should take all measures aimed at making travel, safe and hassle free for cyclists. New laws should be made for this purpose, if necessary.

5. To lessen traffic congestion and increase safety of the cyclists, one-way traffic for the motorists in parallel roads should be encouraged wherever possible.

6. Cyclists should be provided with facilities to purchase bicycles, spare parts and accessories at discount rates.

7. Encourage production of bicycles, spare parts and accessories in Sri Lanka. Promote bicycle repair services countrywide.

8. Plant and maintain trees on the roadside for the benefit of cyclists. This will also help reduce air pollution and ambient temperature.

9. Liaise with major cycling associations in the world like the World Cycling Association, the Dutch Cycling Embassy, etc, in order to update knowledge and skills relating to promoting cycling in the country.

10. In keeping with the principle of “polluter pays” a dedicated tax could be imposed on motor vehicles, and the revenue therefrom used to promote cycling.

Dr. PRASANNA COORAY

President

Consumers & Customers Union

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Opinion

Catastrophe that has hit Ukraine

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The coup, or revolution, in Ukraine in 2014, as a result of the Maidan Square uprising, enabled extremist forces to take control of Ukraine. Many of them have Fascist ideology even to this day. In 1945, Russia had chased the German Nazis back to Berlin at a terrible cost in Russian lives. Now, people with this same mentality have taken power in Kiev with the devilish help of the American CIA – and they are hostile to Russians in Russia and even Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who number about a third of the total population of 60 million Ukrainians.

This minority of Russian-speaking people are mostly located towards the East of the country, with many centred in the towns and cities known as the Donbas. These people did not want to be subjected to Nazi, Fascist unpleasant treatment, so they agitated to be independent. They formed their own militias, men from the army defected and brought weapons from the army! The army and the militias fought each other to a standstill. In response, the Ukrainian army-built lines of trenches and other defences along the Donbas, especially near towns with important or vital industries.

Over time, relations deteriorated and the army started indiscriminately shelling the Donbas – they were killing their own people! This tragedy occurred for a period of eight years. About 14,000 civilians were killed by illegal random fire. No reporting on this in the “morally correct” west, and this story was ignored. Fascist thugs made Mariupol steelworks their headquarters in the Donbas. Early this year, 2022, the Ukrainian army was seen massing nearby for a full-scale attack on the rebels of the Donbas. Around 200, 000 of the best fighting men of all the Ukrainian army were to be used to finally crush the Russian-speaking rebels of the Donbas.

At the same time, the US was gearing up to take some land in the Donbas area – possibly in Crimea. The US considered Ukraine as their backyard, and they wanted to control the Black Sea and pin down Russian access to the sea – more devilish ideas to undermine and weaken Russia!

Russian ‘Special Military Operation

’:

But Russia was watching, and on 24 February, it launched its ‘Special Military Operation’ to counter the hostile actions in the Donbas. The first thing they did was to destroy all the ground radars, rendering the Ukrainian air force incapable of targeting accurately. Then came a great parade of propaganda and lies about Russian failures and losses, all fictions and distortions which were untrue, but were misleading to those without access to the facts. President Putin had so many ailments he alone could fill a hospital! All fiction. The west’s propaganda war is a remarkable feature of this military excursion.

At the outset of the Special Military Operation there were many similarities between the Russian and Ukrainian forces, and their equipment. But there were some glaring differences, too.

Russian forces were full time, professional soldiers, well trained in the specific tasks they were responsible for: they were a fully professional, competent army operating advanced equipment. They had high-tech equipment and knew how to handle it and use it to its fullest, to its best.

Each aircraft, battle tank, drone or radar station carries electronic equipment. This creates a node forming part of a computer network which exchanges information. The information fed into this network is processed by powerful computers. The result is that the targeting of enemy positions is exact, resulting in highly efficient warfare. It is efficient, not least because the Russian army wants to avoid targeting civilians. In the Donbas, all the people were related kinsfolk, being Russian speakers.

This required much caution in targeting, as the Ukrainian army was hiding among the civilians. The Russian army was obliged to advance slowly, so as to do as little damage as possible. This targeting efficiency also had the benefit of using ammunition economically. It was a progressive, brutal de-militarization of the Ukrainian army in Donbas using the combined military forces of Russia.

No-body knows when peace will arrive in Ukraine. It seems likely that, after going to all this effort, Russia will continue on and conquer the port of Odessa, and may even continue onwards to link up with Transnistria.

Note that this death and destruction could all have been avoided if Ukraine had implemented the Minsk Accords. They acted in bad faith and now suffer the consequences of that dishonesty.

Wild speculations are made in the West about the dangers of nuclear war. But these generals, colonels and western elites should know, as a matter of personal professional pride, that the official “Russian Military Doctrine” spells out in sections 26 and 27 the criteria for the use of nuclear weapons. This will happen only when outside actions pose an existential (real) threat to Russia. Russia will react with Nukes either: if Russia is hit by a nuclear explosion or if an army invades and approaches the centre, say, Moscow.

A Professional Army using High–tech Equipment:

For this success, Russian soldiers had to be well educated in maths and physics, and because of the extreme complexity of modern war, they must have a serious attitude. They had to know all about military science: operational art and planning, informational nodes, and net centric warfare. The Russian army engages in reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and targeting. Radar can give targeting information in 23 seconds, requiring defence alertness and readiness.

It is unlikely the Ukrainian army is so well educated and trained. Firing indiscriminately on the Donbas and killing people and the use of prohibited cassette munitions as seen on world news sites, does indicate a lack of discipline. This unprofessionalism has cost them dearly.

The Ukrainian army gives losses at approximately: 20,000 killed, 64,000 missing in action, and perhaps 30,000 men wounded. Russians give about: 5,000 men in special Russian holding camps and 2,500 men in Donbas holding camps.

Legal experts in Russia, and Donbas experts, are, even now sifting through all the cases of the detained men. Normal soldiers will be given trials and sentencing for any wrongdoing, but those with a background of supporting Fascism will be shipped to Siberia for further investigation. One of the stated aims of the Russian establishment is to de-Nazify the Ukrainian army.

The Role of Education in Development of a Country

: Throughout their lives Russian children get much more science, physics and mathematics (STEM) than schools in the west. The standard set by the best Russian college entrance examinations is high, putting the American schools and colleges in the shade. There are no multiple-choice questions, answers are either right or wrong. These best Russian schools are attended by many bright, thirsty minds, each waiting to drink up the education offered.

This careful selection and development of bright scientific minds has enabled Russia to develop really advanced weapons and rockets, way ahead of the USA. For example, it launched the orbiting Sputnik into space well before the Americans. This act alone sent the US administration into a panic. They, in response, developed the high altitude U2 spy plane to go and see what the Russians were up to! Recently, because the US Shuttle was out of service, Russia was providing the Americans with a shuttle service to the international space station. A group of young engineers, all under 30 years, designed the SU 57, a highly successful fighter. Russia has designed and successfully tested hypersonic weapons – which the USA is struggling to catch up with.

In truth, the main war between East and West is being played out at the school desk, and Russia is winning!

See Larry Johnson’s film on YouTube – in English

PRIYANTHA HETTIGE

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Opinion

Save us from our govt.!

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When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.

One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.

Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!

Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.

The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.

BUDDHI PERERA

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