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Yahapalana govt. came to power with minority votes and officials felt helpless – Ex- Defence secy.

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Given how important the support from the minorities was for the previous government, the defence establishment had to be very careful when dealing with rising Islamic extremism and radicalisation, former Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarchchi on Thursday informed the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) investigating the Easter Sunday attacks.

Hettiarchchi said that State Intelligence Service (SIS) had identified rising Islamic extremism and radicalisation as serious issues by 2016 and steps had been taken to infiltrate and monitor those organisations. The SIS identified a large number of radicals that could pose a serious threat, and the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA), which was proposed by the previous government, was an attempt to bring in laws that could deal with extremists.

“A lot of legal experts examined the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and told us that they could not apprehend people under the PTA for radicalisation. But those people posed a serious threat and until laws were changed we took steps to work with moulavis, parents and other community leaders to advice people who had embraced extremism.”

Between late 2016 and early 2017,  Hettiarchchi met a large number of Muslim political and religious leaders on establishing community mechanisms to address radicalism. Politicians like Rishad Bathiudeen, Azath Salley and children of Alavi Moulana had met him, Hettiarchchi said. 

“All agreed that there was extremism. However, they also said that Sri Lanka was not an ISIS target and should not become one. ISIS targeted countries that took military action against them, they argued.”

Intelligence agencies kept tabs on  the promotion of extremism promoted by certain mosques and madrasas but were hesitant to take action because of political implications. 

“If those things had been happening in the majority community, we could have easily done something. We had to be very careful with Muslims and Christians. We had informed the National Security Council (NSC) of these developments and it could have done something.”

A member of the commission then asked Hettiarchchi what the political implications of taking action against extremism were. The witness said that the yahapalana government had come to power with the votes of the minorities and officials felt helpless.

“The yahapalana government won the North and the East, Mahinda Rajapaksa won all other areas. Religious and ethnic minorities were a powerful force in that government, and we couldn’t act unilaterally. That’s what we felt. We felt powerless. If something had gone wrong, officials would have had to face the consequences,” he said.

Hettiarchchi also said that he had made a proposal to ban the niqab, a veil worn by some Muslim women in public, covering all of the face apart from the eyes. He felt that the niqab was a threat to the national security and it should be banned at least in public spaces, Hettiarchchi said.

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Majority of 300 luxury vehicles to be released

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… some shipped in without opening LCs, EU wants restrictions abolished

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The majority of the luxury vehicles imported by special permit holders in contravention of the import ban imposed by the government in view of precarious economic situation caused by corona first wave are likely to be released subject to penalties.

Well informed sources said that those vehicles shipped in without even opening LCs would be released. Among the violators were many government servants.

Sources said that vehicles brought in without opening LCs were likely to be confiscated.

“We have categorised over 300 vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes-Benz and Audis into two groups. Customs are now in the process of evaluating individual cases,” a high ranking state official said.

The government announced a ban on vehicle imports to arrest the depletion of foreign reserves. Sources acknowledged that at the time the vehicles

arrived in Sri Lanka the second corona wave hadn’t erupted. The situation was far worse now and further deteriorating, they said, adding that the Customs were being inundated with requests for releasing vehicles on sympathetic grounds.

Controversy surrounds the failure on the part of the government to strictly implement the import ban in view of the sharp drop in state revenue due to the pandemic.

Recently, the EU demanded that Sri Lanka immediately lift import ban or face the consequences. The EU issued the warning in talks with government representatives. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena explained the circumstances that compelled the government to impose import restrictions. The EU sought an explanation as to when the ban would be lifted. The Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Gunawardena as having explained to the EU the challenges Sri Lanka economy was facing amidst the dwindling foreign currency reserve situation due to the significant reduction in remittances and tourism revenue induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister said that the import restrictions were being reviewed.

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Nearly 74,000 persons under home quarantine

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Close to 74,000 people belonging to 27,974 families had been placed under home quarantine, Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said on Wednesday (25).

He said that the number of cases from the Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda clusters had increased to 17,436 with 458 persons had tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

Two wards of the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital, Panadura were temporarily closed on Wednesday after two pregnant women admitted there tested COVID-19 positive.

The two women are from Atalugama, which has been declared an isolated area. During the last few days close to half of the COVID-19 patients detected in Colombo District are from Atalugama.

The two women have been sent to Neville Fernando Hospital, Malabe. The patients and staff in Wards 3 and 4 at the Kethumathi Maternity Hospital are now under quarantine. Their family members too have been asked to undergone self-quarantine.

The Police had arrested 61 persons who had violated quarantine laws within the 24 hours that ended at 8 am yesterday, Police spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said, adding that they had been arrested for not wearing masks or for not maintaining physical distancing. With those altogether 688 persons had been arrested for violating quarantine laws from October 30, he said.

Commissioner General of Prisons Thushara Upuldeniya said that apart from Welikada, the spread of COVID-19 had been controlled at other prisons. COVID-19 cases had been reported from six prisons, he added.

“We are conducting PCR tests and hope that the situation in Welikada too would be brought under control. Twenty four new cases were detected from prisons on November 24 and from October 04, we have identified 708 cases within the prison system.”

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Severity of impact of second wave on economy could be far worse than anticipated – CBSL

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By Shyam Nuwan Ganewatte

The impact of the second wave of COVID-19 could be severer on the economic growth than previously anticipated, Director of Economic Research at the Central Bank Dr. Chandranath Amarasekara said yesterday (26).

Dr. Amarasekera said so responding to a query by The Island at a CBSL media briefing. The top official said that an assessment couldn’t be made yet as the second wave was continuing.

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