Govt. and JO set to face off over rally

  • 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.

Courtesy: Daily FT

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