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Govt. and JO set to face off over rally

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 5 September 2018 00:00


Prime Minister                                                                                          Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera 

Ranil Wickremesinghe                                                                             – Pic by Wijesinghe Sameera 


  • PM says JO free to protest but Govt. will ensure public and private sector activities safeguarded
  • Mangala slams organisers, says deliberate effort to trigger reaction from Govt. 
  • Insists MR squandered precious funds on ‘komis kutti’ development but not public needs 
  • Two courts reject police requests for orders preventing protest march 
  • Police to take action under the Police Ordinance if rally causes disruptions 


By Uditha Jayasinghe 

and Skandha Gunasekara 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe along with other top government officials including Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera yesterday censured what they termed deliberate efforts by the Joint Opposition to cause maximum public inconvenience by their rally today, but insisted the Government stood ready to protect public rights.      

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, responding to a question by Joint Opposition Parliamentary Group Leader Dinesh Gunawardena on whether the Government had ordered the police to stop private bus owners from providing buses for the protest, insisted that the Government was dedicated to upholding democratic ideals. 

Wickremesinghe noted that the Government had no intention of obstructing the protest organised by the Joint Opposition but would ensure that the activities of the masses, including the public and private sectors, were allowed to carry on unhindered.

“We have no problem with the Joint Opposition protest. However, 5 September is not a public holiday. Schoolchildren and office workers must come to Colombo. Many other people too come to the city for their various needs. We cannot let them be affected by your protest. It is the duty of the Government.  MP Gunawardena asks that there should be no disruption of bus services. We too act for the same purpose. On the other hand, the MPs should be able to come and go out of Parliament without hindrance. We have to ensure that they come here without problems. 

“The Joint Opposition MPs have stated that they will surround Parliament. The police have a duty to ensure the protection of Parliament. We have not blocked people or protesters from coming to Colombo. We have provided them their freedom. We have only instructed that the public not be hindered by the protest. Today the tavern owners are happy because they will have good business tomorrow because of the protest. We have established democracy. We will not abduct you like the way you did to Prageeth Eknaligoda. We will not kill people the way you killed Lasantha Wickrematunge. We will not assault people the way you did to Keith Noyahr and Upali Tennakoon. You can stage protests today because we have ensured freedom and democracy,” the Premier said.

Nevertheless, MP Gunawardena objected that the Prime Minister had failed to answer his question.

Hurriedly summoning a press conference, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera also slammed the Joint Opposition, emphasising that the rally was an effort to trigger a reaction from the Government. 

“People have a right to protest and we respect that right. During the previous government even I have been part of protests that were attacked. In fact it was right in front of the Finance Ministry. But we will uphold the democratic rights that we restored when we came to power. That is our responsibility,” Samaraweera said. 

However, responding to questions, Samaraweera expressed concern over plans by the Joint Opposition protesters to remain at key landmarks around the city and bus additional people on Thursday to continue the protest. The Minister was sceptical of their efforts and noted that they were “borrowed from the Arab Spring” to trigger a reaction from the Government. 

“They are desperate to try and get someone killed during the protest. So they can blame us.” 

Samaraweera was also disparaging of the development carried out by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, pointing out that during the recent ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ exhibition in Monaragala the Government had identified many shortcomings including 25,000 houses without toilet facilities, 947 houses without permanent roofs and 333 under-resourced schools. 

“Monaragala is right next to Hambantota. If the former government really wanted development that would help the people they would have addressed these issues. Instead they went and built a huge port, airport, convention centre and cricket stadium that only increased the debt of this country. If the former government had spent even 1% of that Rs. 241 billion on what the people really needed the poverty rates of these areas would have reduced significantly. Instead they only did ‘commis kutti’ development,” he said. 

The Government has allocated Rs. 600 million to develop Monaragala and will hold the next exhibition in Kurunegala in December to continue the program.   

Meanwhile, the Colombo Additional Magistrate on Tuesday rejected a request made by the Welikada Police seeking a court order prohibiting the Joint Opposition from protesting within the Welikada Police Division. The Fort Magistrate’s Court also rejected a similar request seeking a court order barring the rally within the Kollupitiya Police Division.

Police have the power to take action under the Police Ordinance if the rally causes any inconvenience to the public.  

Namal responsible for public inconvenience

  • Ministers Harin Fernando and Ajith Perera slam protest as attempt to promote civil disobedience

By Ashwin Hemmathagama

Disruptions to public life and any other consequences from the Joint Opposition (JO) backed march today should be accepted by MP Namal Rajapaksa, United National Party (UNP) lawmakers said yesterday, charging that the protest amounted to civil disobedience.    

Addressing the media soon after the House adjourned due to disturbances by JO members, the Government said Rajapaksa was organising the protest without following due process to allow the public to avoid delays and inconveniences.

“The JO has violated three basic matters in this protest. They should have identified a place to hold their protest. Then also informed the police of the route the protest march will travel so that traffic can be diverted. Also, they should obtain a licence to use public address systems. Until this moment nothing has been done. This is nothing but civil disobedience. Having seen the Arab Spring and the protests in Ukraine, the JO has pledged to camp within the city with their supports and wait till the Government is toppled. We are deeply concerned about the property damage, especially due to the unruly behaviour of participants,” said Power and Renewable Energy State Minister Ajith Perera.

Joining the media conference, Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando referred to the protest as ‘Horunge Rasthiyaduwa’ or the ‘aimless wandering of thieves’, which was drawn from social media posts. 

“The Rajapaksas are hungry for power. This is a useless protest organised to show the organising capabilities of MP Namal Rajapaksa and to cut off Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his uncle, who gained popularity during the recent past and posed a threat within the party as a candidate at the next election. The Rajapaksas are eager to get one of their followers killed during the clashes so that it could be highlighted in the media. There will be an election within the next one and half years; they can wait for a democratic way to defeat the current government,” said Minister Fernando. 

Group of 16 lacks principles: Duminda

  • No decision to take action against any SLFPers who may participate in JO rally today 
  • Insists SLFP not weak, will overcome current crisis

By Chathuri Dissanayake 

Being critical of the conduct of the Group of 16, the breakaway fraction of Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Disaster Management Minister Duminda Dissanayake yesterday said that they lacked proper principles. 

“They have no principles as to who they are supporting or what they are supporting. I may not agree with the principles of Mahinda supporters but I respect the fact that they have principles. The Group of 16 says one thing in the morning and another by evening. They have one leg in this camp and another in the Joint Opposition camp. As politicians they have to have clear principles,” Minister Dissanayake said. 

Though critical of the Group of 16, the Minister did not spell out any disciplinary action the party may take if the group participates in the ‘Janayabalaya Colabata’ rally organised by the Joint Opposition today. 

Explaining the stance of the party regarding the issue, Dissanayake claimed that the SLFP could not decide on the matter yet as they were unclear about the agenda or purpose of the rally to date. According to him the Joint Opposition (JO) de-facto leader former president Mahinda Rajapaksa has claimed the rally is not a party rally but one to protest against the Government of which the SLFP was a part of.  

However, Dissanayake was confident about the strength of the party to overcome its divisions despite not taking direct action against the Group of 16. 

“The SLFP at one point was reduced to a mere eight members but we survived that crisis. This is the party which has won the most elections for the people so we will survive this too and will come out stronger,” he told reporters. 

Members of the Group of 16 who have been appointed to various positions within the party have been blamed for not carrying out party reform work as expected. Dissananayake claimed that the SLFP was aware of where their shortcomings lay and would take action against those who were underperforming. 

The party yesterday appointed Rohan Gunawardana the new Electoral Organiser for the Nuwara Eliya District, which Dissanayake stated was in line with the policy to remove any non-performing members.

“We have appointed a number of acting organisers to carry out the work, and with time we will make them permanent appointments,” he said.

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