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Zahran et al exploited yahapalana chaos to advance sinister political strategy – SLPP MP

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‘Those who practised Wahhabism almost succeeded in achieving their dreadful objectives’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List lawmaker Gevindu Cumaratunga says if the then President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe parted ways in the wake of the heavy defeat suffered by the yahapalana partners, the SLFP and the UNP, at the Feb 10, 2018 Local Government election, Easter Sunday carnage could have been avoided.

Continuation of the sharply divided political marriage, regardless of the consequences, created an environment conducive for those who followed Wahhabism to plan terror attacks as part of their overall strategy, MP Cumaratunga said in response to a query by The Island. The lawmaker, who also heads the Yuthukama civil society organization, said that he discussed the issue at hand during the recent debate on the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) on the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nearly 270 people perished in suicide attacks whereas 500 received injuries. Lawmaker Cumaratunga explained that the PCoI dealt quite comprehensively with the deterioration of national security in the wake of the 2015 change of government. The PCoI highlighted how alarming and rapid the spread of Wahhabism coincided with unprecedented irresponsible conduct on the part of the political leadership as well as the security apparatus. The country couldn’t bear such treacherous behaviour, the MP stressed, pointing out how even two years after the heinous crime the public struggled to cope up with the situation.

Yuthukama is represented in Parliament by two members, with Anupa Pasquel, who successfully contested the Kalutara district at the August 2020 general election being the other member.

Lawmaker Cumaratunga asked whether those who had brought about the 2015 change of government that paved the way for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution facilitated the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) terror project. Calling the 19th Amendment enacted in 2015 with the backing of over 200 members, a constitutional-religious bomb, the MP alleged that the much-touted political exercise was meant to weaken the Sri Lankan State. In the aftermath of the 2015 presidential election, the appointment of a minority UNP government that didn’t have at least 50 MPs in Parliament and the resultant 19th Amendment rapidly eroded political stability achieved at the previous general election, the MP said.

The Joint Opposition (now SLPP in power) too voted for the 19th Amendment with the blessings of the defeated presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa. Only retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, the current Public Security Minister, refused to back the 19th Amendment in spite of the then President and the SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena pushing for the JO’s undivided support.

Cumaratunga said that Local Government polls in Feb 2018 signalled the failure of the yahapalana political arrangement. Therefore, the UNP and the SLFP should have parted ways to bring political deterioration to a halt and the restoration of political stability, expeditiously.

Responding to another query, he explained how the TNA and the JVP worked overtime to save UNP leader Wickremesinghe after President Sirisena sacked the Cabinet in the last week of Oct 2018. The civil society activist recalled the TNA and the JVP throwing their combined weight behind the UNP, in Parliament, and outside, and then successfully moving court to thwart President Sirisena’s move. Had President Sirisena succeeded, the NTJ terror project could have been averted, MP Cumaratunga said. However, those who had external backing prevailed over President Sirisena’s political project thereby ensuring the continuing deterioration of national security under the yahapalana leadership until it was too late. The Yuthukama Chief said that external forces revealed their hand by sending their diplomatic representatives for high profile visits to Parliament during the conflict in the run-up to a court verdict in favour of the UNP-led grouping. How could those who had unreservedly backed the restoration of the UNP administration at the expense of much needed political stability absolve themselves of the responsibility for subsequent developments, Cumaratunga asked. The UNP-led fight back compelled President Sirisena to roll back the move to conduct a general election on Jan 5, 2019.

MP Cumaratunga, during his brief address to Parliament, last week, rapped the TNA’s stand on the Easter Sunday carnage. Having contributed to the deterioration of security, by way of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, that allowed the NTJ followers to cause mayhem, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, PC recently called Sri Lanka a failed state on the basis of its alleged failure to protect its own citizens, the MP pointed out.

 The TNA spokesperson had conveniently forgotten how he justified the the Easter Sunday massacre at an event organized at the BMICH within a week after the carnage, MP Cumaratunga said. The TNA had no qualms in speaking on behalf of Easter Sunday attackers in the presence of the then HRCSL Chairperson Dr. Deepika Udagama and among the audience were Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya.

Acknowledging the parliamentary Opposition, namely the SJB, TNA and JVP, hadn’t been happy with the PCoI report, lawmaker Cumaratunga decried alleged attempts to propagate the new lie that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a possible hand in the Easter Sunday carnage. Alleging that politics had deteriorated to a new low, MP Cumaratunga questioned the rationale in them rejecting the PCoI on the basis it failed to expose the Easter Sunday mastermind. Lawmaker Cumaratunga pointed out the UNP appointed Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), that probed the Easter Sunday attacks, failed badly in its endeavor. The MP said that those who represented the PSC and now in Parliament Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Sarath Fonseka, M.A. Sumanthiran and Rauff Hakeem and defeated JVP candidate Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, owed an explanation without further delay. The Yuthukama Chief emphasized that the PCoI had achieved its objectives whereas the PSC engaged in a futile exercise to whitewash certain people.

Appreciating the services rendered by the PCoI, MP Cumaratunga said that the report encompassed the alleged Easter Sunday attacker Zahran Hashim views on the terror project (page 528) and the recommendation of further investigations against the backdrop of its failure to secure credible evidence as regards a foreign hand. Referring to the PCoI comment on one-time National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmdali’s assassination in 1993, MP Cumaratunga discussed in Parliament during the adjournment debate the circumstances leading to Ranil Wickremesinghe receiving the leadership of the UNP. Faulting those who had examined Athulathmudali’s assassination through a political lens though he was assassinated by the LTTE, MP Cumaratunga questioned the way some reacted to the LTTE killing State Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne, Gamini Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Cumaratunga asked what would have happened if the military and the police failed to thwart the second wave of NTJ suicide attacks and also defuse vehicle bombs, including one in close proximity to St. Anthony’s Church, Kochchikade. The SLPP MP recollected how a driver of a vehicle used by Zahran’s gang to move a large consignment of explosives to the East helped thwart the second wave by alerting the police. Unfortunately, those who played with national security pursued an entirely different agenda, the MP alleged. Had Zahran’s followers succeeded, the presidential poll, too, could have been off indefinitely, lawmaker Cumaratunga said, underscoring the need for the thorough examination of the political strategy adopted by those who spearheaded the yahapalana project.

MP Cumaratunga also made reference to a national referendum conducted in late Dec 1982 to put off a scheduled general election by six years and Digana violence soon after the Feb 2018 Local Government polls defeat suffered by those in power to highlight what he called despicable UNP strategies.

MP Cumaratunga said that the PCoI had made several extremely important recommendations, including the defense portfolio to be under the President (page 486). The 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in Oct 2020 addressed that particular issue, the MP said. The MP pointed out further a spate of recommendations made by the PCoI to strengthen the monitoring of funds received through the banking and various other proposals such as to do away with the Proportional Representation system (changes in the electoral system) to ensure political stability.



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AG says no legal impediment to Bathiudeen attending Parliament

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Public Security Minister: Those detained under PTA shouldn’t be allowed in

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, says there is no legal impediment to Opposition MP Rishad Bathiudeen attending Parliament while being detained in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The CID arrested the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) in the early hours of April 24 for aiding and abetting the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombers.

Multiple blasts in different locations killed 270 people and wounded about 500.

The AG set the record straight in the wake of the CID failing to arrange for MP Bathiudeen to attend Parliament on May 4 and 5.

The Island learns that Police Headquarters recently consulted the AG as regards the legality of the Vanni District SJB MP attending parliamentary sessions and the SJB, on his behalf, requested the Speaker to facilitate the arrangements.

The ACMC contested the last general election on the SJB ticket. Its parliamentary group comprises four, including Bathiudeen.

The police sought the AG’s advice after having received a missive from Serjeant at arms Narendra Fernando in that regard. The AG has advised the police that MP Bathiudeen could attend parliamentary sessions.

However, Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera has advised the police against the ACMC leader attending Parliament. The Minister has issued instructions in this regard having requested the Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to prevent those detained under the PTA from attending parliament.

MP Bathiudeen has been detained for a period of 90 days pending investigations. His brother Riyajj too has been detained under PTA for 90 days.

 Minister Weerasekera, in Parliament yesterday (5) defended his decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament. Dismissing concerns raised by SJB MP Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran about the ACMC leader being deprived of his right to attend parliament sessions, Minister Weerasekera emphasized that he was responsible for public security.

Minister Weerasekera reminded Speaker Abeywardena that he had requested him not to allow anyone detained under PTA to attend parliament pending conclusion of investigations.

Weerasekera said that the CID wouldn’t have detained the MP concerned without valid reasons.

Perhaps, Field Marshal Fonseka had no concerns for public security, the former Navy Chief of Staff said, emphasising that the government wouldn’t conduct investigations the way the former Army Commander and the TNA spokesman desired.

Bathiudeen earlier served in the Cabinets of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The ACMC switched its allegiance to SJB at the 2020 August parliamentary election after having backed Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2019 presidential.

Bathiudeens’ lawyer Rushdhie Habeeb told The Island that the decision to prevent MP Bathiudeen from attending parliament was political. Habeeb said that the issue at hand would be raised vigorously, both here and abroad, and a media briefing would be called soon to explain the situation.

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MONLAR draws attention to ticking COVID time bomb in plantations

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of estate workers had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and given the generally congested living environment and lack of health facilities on plantations, the entire estate sector was a ticking time bomb, Moderator of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) Chinthaka Rajapakshe said yesterday.

Rajapakshe told The Island  that the latest outbreak on the estates had occurred after the return of some persons from Colombo during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

“We had warned that this would happen. People kept on returning home although the preparedness of the plantation economy to face a COVID-19 outbreak was non-existent.”

 “If one person gets it, the entire line will get it, and therefore urgent steps should be taken to minimise COVID-19 spread,” Rajapakshe said, adding that such an eventuality would not only destroy lives but also cripple the plantation sector, causing an enormous loss to the state coffers.

 

 

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Clandestine dealings of fishers will precipitate spread of deadly Indian variant here – Expert

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

There was a risk of the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant spreading to Sri Lanka as well, Chief Epidemiologist of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Samaraweera told the media yesterday in Colombo.

Dr. Samaraweera said that Sri Lankan fishermen continued to interact with their Indian counterparts in mid-sea and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Indian variant entered Sri Lanka.

“We must be extremely vigilant. We have seen the devastation caused by this variant in India. These mid-sea interactions by the fishing community must be stopped.”

Dr. Samaraweera added that although the Dambulla Economic Centre

had been reopened for business yesterday morning, health officials had been compelled to close five shops as their owners violated the Covid-19 protocol.    

“This is a commercial hub where people from all parts of the country converge. So, if there are COVID-19 cases here, then it will spread across the country. Therefore, people have to act carefully and responsibly.”

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