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Wimal accuses UN of playing politics

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, yesterday (15) accused the UN of playing politics with the controversy over the cremation of all those who died of COVID-19.

Minister Weerawansa said so when The Island sought his opinion on the UN recently requesting Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to do away with the existing restrictions.

Minister Weerawansa emphasised that there couldn’t be justification whatsoever in UN intervention as the situation took a turn for the worse over the past several days.

With the death toll now beyond 50 and positive cases over 16,000 the country couldn’t risk a further deterioration, lawmaker Weerawansa said. Responding to another query, Minister Weerawansa pointed out that UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo Ms Hanaa Singer wouldn’t have intervened without consulting New York.

The NFF leader said that Ms. Singer copied her Nov 12 dated missive to Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena. Minister Weerawansa questioned the UN’s assertion that ‘negative consequences of not allowing burials seem to outweigh any potential epidemiological benefit, the country has gained.’

The NFF has six MPs among 145-member SLPP parliamentary group.

“I fear that not allowing burials is having a negative effect on social cohesion and, more importantly, could also adversely impact the measures for containing the spread of the virus as it may discourage people to access medical care when they have symptoms or history of contact,” Ms Singer said, claiming that she intervened in this matter after receiving many appeals within and outside the Muslim community that the current policy is discriminatory.

Minister Weerawansa compared the UN Resident Coordinator’s claim of having received ‘impassioned appeals’ with moving Geneva resolution on the basis of unverified war crimes accusations. If the UN was so concerned wouldn’t it better for them to make inquiries instead of releasing letters to the public, Minister Weerawansa asked.

Minister Weerawansa alleged that the UN had conveniently forgotten the restrictions affected all communities regardless of faith. Unfortunately, the UN raised the issue with Premier Rajapaksa as if restrictions only affected the Muslim community. The NFF leader said that many an eyebrow was raised recently over the UK condemning the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday attack suspect, lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah. Minister Weerawansa said that the contentious issue has been raised at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), while the matter was pending before the country’s highest court.

The Cabinet also discussed the British government criticism of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the 30/1 accountability resolution and current human rights situation in Sri Lanka et al.

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, in a statement delivered on behalf of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK alleged that civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka experienced an increasingly difficult operating environment.

A British statement quoted Ambassador French as having said: “Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Minister Weerawansa said that unless the government successfully countered the latest UN move, Sri Lanka’s corona health guidelines, too, could end up a subject matter in Geneva.

Asked whether the cabinet of ministers discussed the Ms Singer’s letter, Minister Weerawansa said that

Premier Rajapaksa’s Office received the letter after last week’s cabinet meeting.

Minister Weerawansa reiterated that the cabinet could discuss anything though decision on health guidelines was certainly not the prerogative of the cabinet.

“We are in such a crisis, no sane political leadership will pursue political agenda at the expense of the well-being of the country,” lawmaker Weerawansa said.

Minister explained that the UN’s intervention should be examined against the backdrop of the global health community yet to reach conclusive decisions on rampaging coronavirus. The bottom line is that in the absence of consensus on how to tackle the epidemic, Sri Lanka shouldn’t under any circumstances adopt measures that could endanger the overall response to the unprecedented viral threat.

Minister Weerawansa emphasized that the discussion pertaining to the possibility of burying bodies in some isolated spot was absurd. “The health administration, security forces and the police are working overtime, under extremely difficult conditions to bring the situation under control while a section of the population demanded burial rights. This is not fair.”

Minister Weerawansa said that with some parts of the highly populated Colombo district under severe threat with the majority of deaths being reported there, the government would have to further tighten counter measures instead of appeasing opportunists.

The outspoken Minister called for an inquiry into recent claim by the Ceylon Thowheed Jamaat that the government authorized burials as it was denied. Colombo District MP attorney-at-law Premanath C. Dolawatte recently lodged a complaint with the CID in that regard. Claiming that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa never promised to do away with cremation of all corona victims lawmaker Dolawatte requested an inquiry

Minister Weerawansa said that in the wake of UN the intervention, various other international groupings such as the EU, too, could issue statements in that regard. Asked whether he felt a section of the international community adopted a policy hostile towards post-war Sri Lanka, lawmaker Weerawansa alleged those who couldn’t stomach eradication of the LTTE were still campaigning against the country. The return of the war winning administration to power was a headache for some, the minister alleged.

Minister Weerawansa emphasized the pivotal importance of the government addressing this issue in one voice without conceding to what he called politics of religious extremism.

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Foreign force behind Easter Sunday attacks – Sirisena

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A powerful foreign country or an agency was behind the Easter Sunday bombings and the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zaharan Hashim, former President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday told the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

“I also do not believe that Zaharan was the leader of that organisation. Because a leader would never have initiated a suicide attack and died during the first wave,” Sirisena said.

The former President also said that Islamic extremism had spread rapidly in the country due to the support extremists received from Muslim politicians.

Sirisena also said that the military and intelligence officials had been demoralised by harassment they suffered during the yahaalanaya administration. This was the reason why local institutions failed to uncover NTJ’s plans. “But this incident is a conspiracy because it appeared that Zaharan was being manipulated by some foreign hand,” the former President said.

The President further said that during the previous administration, UNPers had headed the Ministry of Law and Order for several years that they had significantly weakened the intelligence services. Although he had taken the Ministry of law and Order in the last stages of the yahapalana government, he had not been able to undo the damage the UNP had done in four years, the witness said.

Commissioner: “Did you know that during your tenure as President, Muslim MPs and ministers were forcible acquiring land in Vanni and Batticaloa and they were constructing Muslim villages and mosques there?”

Sirisena: “Some ministers used their political power to clear forests and cultivate lands. Some ministers were angry with me when I tried to stop them. I tried hard to control those actions. But it was difficult for me to deal with that situation. Fundamentalism rose due to the protection given by Muslim political leaders. Certain political parties are based on religion, race and language. This is disastrous. I tried to stop these people but my decisions were not implemented.”

 

 

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Bathiudeen granted bail

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Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen was released on bail by the Fort Magistrate’s Court yesterday. Fort Magistrate Priyantha Liyanage released Bathiudeen on cash bail of Rs. 100,000 with two sureties of one million rupees each.

The Magistrate also imposed a travel ban on Bathiudeen and said that the guarantors should be his close relatives.

The Magistrate granted bail to the MP considering the risk of him contracting COVID-19 as two inmates in cells next to his had recently tested positive for coronavirus.

Bathiudeen was remanded in connection with alleged misappropriation of public funds during the last presidential election to transport voters.

The former minister has been accused of misusing 222 buses owned by the SLTB for transporting internally displaced persons from Puttalam to polling stations in Silavathurai, Mannar during the 2019 Presidential Election. Two others, Mohamed Yaseen Samsudeen and Alagarathnam Manoranjan face the same charges.

They have allegedly violated Article 82(1) of Presidential Elections Act, No. 15 of 1981 by misappropriating public funds amounting to Rs. 9.5 million.

Bathiudeen was arrested at an apartment complex at Ebenezer Place in Dehiwala in the early hours of October 19. He was then produced before the court and placed under remand custody. His bail application was also rejected by the magistrate’s court on several occasions

 

 

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Zahran supported Sirisena and SLMC at 2015 elections, Hizbullah tells PCoI

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its leader Zahran Hashim supported Former President Maithripala Sirisena and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) at the 2015 elections, former Eastern Province Governor M.L.A.M Hizbullah, on Tuesday night, told the PCoI probing the Easter Sunday attacks.

Hizbullah was giving evidence before the PCoI for the second day.

“Zahran supported the SLMC at the 2015 general election. After the UNP-led coalition won the election, NTJ members fought with our supporters. Several people were injured during the clash, including Zahran’s brother. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem visited Zahran’s brother at the hospital.”

The witness also submitted a footage of a demonstration opposite NTJ Headquarters in Kattankudy. It contained a speech by Zahran, who expressed his dismay after Sirisena appointed Hizbullah as a national list MP.

“In this video, Zahran clearly says he supported Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential election. Zahran also says he sent a fax to the former President, urging him not to appoint me to Parliament.”

However, it was earlier revealed that in 2015, representatives of five recognised political parties, including the UPFA and the UNP, had signed agreements with Zahran in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Representatives of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG), too, had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for NTJ support, the Commission was told.

Hizbullah, on Monday, admitted that his party had also signed an agreement with the NTJ.

“Zahran told social media that he would support any politician who agreed to his proposals. All the parties joined him. I also went along.”

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