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Myanmar coup: Sri Lanka abstains from voting on UN resolution

Sri Lanka has abstained from voting on the United Nations General Assembly's (UNGA's) resolution for an arms embargo against Myanmar.

On Friday (18), the 47-member Geneva forum unanimously passed a resolution brought by Britain and the European Union (EU) without a vote.

The UN's resolution called "upon the Myanmar armed forces to respect the people's will as freely expressed by results of the general election of November 8, 2020, to end the state of emergency, to respect all human rights of people of Myanmar and to allow the sustained democratic transition of Myanmar, including the opening of the democratically elected parliament, and by working towards bringing all national institutions, including the armed forces, under a fully inclusive civilian government that is representative of the people's will."

Belarus called for a vote on the resolution in the 193-member UNGA but supporters of the resolution had hoped that it would be passed unanimously by consensus.

The resolution was finally passed with 119 countries voting 'yes', Belarus voting 'no' and 36 countries abstaining, including Myanmar’s neighbors China and India, along with Russia, according to the news agency AP.

The violence used by Myanmar's armed forces against unarmed opponents since the coup in February has shocked the world with more than 800 people reported to have been killed.

Meanwhile, senior journalist and former Director General of the Sri Lanka Press Complaints Commission and Director General of the Government Information Department, Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya questioned the government on its decision to abstain from voting.

"Will the Foreign Ministry explain to the taxpayers of this country why Sri Lanka had abstained from voting in the UN resolution against the military junta in Myanmar? Did China say not to vote?," he said on Facebook.

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Ranil warns rupee could soar past 300 if EU revokes GSP+

Sri Lanka is facing the grave risk of the rupee hitting 300 against the US dollar if the GSP+ tax concession is revoked at a time when only the tea and garment industries are able to earn foreign exchange for our country, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickrmesinghe warned.

The UNP leader made these remarks in response to the Resolution adopted by the European Parliament which called for the repeal of Sri Lanka's Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) as the law is deemed incompatible with the conventions that the country has to implement under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) granted to the island nation.

Issuing a special statement today (13), the former Prime Minister said:

"Our government took action to regain the GSP+ from the European Union to assist in developing the country's economy in 2017. This facility provides Sri Lanka with permission to export goods to Europe without taxation, which led to a boom in the garment and fishing industries.

An issue has arisen in the European Parliament this week regarding the GSP+ tax concession. We have been warned that this concession will be revoked.

Our tourism industry is at risk at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the sinking of the X-Press Pearl, issues have arisen for our fishing industry as well. The number of people going abroad for employment has decreased. Therefore, our foreign exchange has fallen.

Sri Lanka borrowed $200 million from Bangladesh due to the economic crisis caused by the decline in our foreign exchange. At present, only the tea and garment industries are able to earn foreign exchange for our country.

In such a case, we are reliant on the GSP+. If this tax relief is lost, the rupee will depreciate further and we will have to pay around 300 rupees per dollar. It will also lead to the loss of thousands of jobs.

In the face of the danger that has arisen, the GSP+ must not be politicized. The government should take immediate action to protect the concession. Do not add any more weight to the heavy economic burden that the people are carrying. I urge the government not to destroy the country."

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LRT project: Japanese firm claims LKR 5.8 billion in penalties

A Japanese firm has sought Rs. 5.8 billion in compensation for the termination of the light rail transit (LRT) project, it is learnt.

The LRT project, which was funded by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), involved a 15.7-km elevated railway track with 16 stations from Colombo Fort to Malabe.

The loan agreement of approximately Rs. 48 billion pertaining to the project was signed between Sri Lanka and Japan in March 2019.  

The highly concessional loan agreement included a 40-year repayment period for funds obtained for consultation services with a grace period spanning 12 years, a 0.1% interest rate per annum for civil work and equipment, and a 0.01% interest rate for engineering services.  

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had instructed to terminate the USD 2.2 billion LRT project stating that the project was “very costly and not the appropriate cost-effective transport solution for the urban Colombo transportation infrastructure."

After auditing government accounts, the Auditor General revealed that the project consultants have maid a claim of Rs. 5896 million in losses and damages.

However, Urban Development, Water Supply and Housing Facilities Ministry Secretary Dr. Priyath Bandu Wickrema had stated that the bilateral loan agreement between the Sri Lankan and Japanese governments has no conditions on compensation or penalties to be paid in case of delay or cancellation of the Colombo LRT project.

He had stated that the JICA had allocated USD 280 million to initiate the project under the first phase but only about USD 20 million had been incurred as costs and as such, only that amount will have to be paid back by the Sri Lankan government if the project is cancelled.

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Fuel price hike: 'Decision was taken by the Finance Ministry' - Energy Minister

Rejecting allegations that he had arbitrarily increased the fuel prices, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila said that the price increase was implemented according to proper procedures with the approval of the cabinet-sub-committee.

Minister Gammnapila made these remarks in response to the statement by the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Sagara Kariyawasam who demanded the resignation of the Energy Minister over the increase in fuel prices.

Noting that he wasn't insane to make such a decision, Minister Gammanpila pointed out that the decision to increase fuel prices was approved by the Treasury and that the decision to increase fuel prices as well as the date of implementation was given to him by the Ministry of Finance.

Gammanpila is scheduled to hold a press conference today (13) to reveal the details behind the fuel price increase.

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Camaraderie of Sri Lankan and Indian soldiers wins peace in far away lands

Testifying to the camaraderie and close cooperation between Armed Forces of India and Sri Lanka way beyond the boundaries of the two countries, 135 Indian and 103 Sri Lankan peacekeepers from the two countries serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) received medals of recognition from the UN Force Commander in Bor earlier this week for their contribution.

Recognizing the services by peacekeepers from the India and Sri Lanka, UN Force Commander Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar congratulated them for ‘their contributions towards the fulfilment of the UNMISS mandate in this challenging environment’.

These peacekeepers were selected from among troops belonging to various nationalities. With 2,418 Indian and 686 Sri Lankan personnel, they jointly constitute more than 20% of the total strength of serving personnel in UNMISS.

Indian peacekeepers are mainly stationed in Bor, Pibor and at a temporary operating base in Akobo. Medal winners from Sri Lanka are from the Blue Berets aviation unit.

The Indian peacekeepers serve in sensitive parts of South Sudan and have engaged in a variety of activities, including civil-military cooperation such as veterinary camps in different parts of the country.

Sri Lankan peacekeepers continue to carry out their relentless work despite two helicopters being shot in the past.

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Experts call on Government to look before it leaps into organic fertiliser

Sri Lanka should use modern fertiliser technology, manage risks and overcome challenges of using organic manure in a well thought out process instead of banning chemical fertiliser outright, agro technology researchers, practitioners and civil society activists said.

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Biden nominates Julie Chung as US Ambassador to SL

U.S. President Joe Biden has announced his intent to nominate Julie Chung as Ambassador to represent the United States in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, the White House announced on Tuesday (15).

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BASL alarmed over new police circular regulating fake news

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has expressed deep concern regarding the government's decision to regulate fake news on social media.

Issuing a statement on Friday (11) in response to the media release issued by the Sri Lanka Police titled “circulation of fake news, photographs, videos causing disunity, hate and obstructing the Covid-19 programme,” the BASL said that the provisions of the laws mentioned in the circular could be misused by police officers in order to stifle the freedom of speech and expression.

"Whilst the BASL has no objection to enforcing laws relating to hate speech and incitement to violence, it is important to ensure that authorities do not use such laws to stifle genuine expressions of dissent and criticism," it said.

Furthermore, the BASL is apprehensive of members of the executive including the police being allowed to decide on what is or is not fake news and on the basis of their subjective decisions to cause arrests and detention of persons.

"The BASL is deeply concerned that the provisions of the laws mentioned in the circular, could be misused by police officers in order to stifle the freedom of speech and expression which is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. At the time where the country remains under travel restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic it is essential that the freedom of speech and expression of the people and their right to dissent and disagree are protected,"  it said.

The BASL cited judgements of cases before the Supreme Court in this regard where Justice Aluwihare with two other judges of the Supreme Court held that: “The judgements of the Supreme Court constitute a body of jurisprudence that has evolved cover the years, and the Supreme Court has recognized that the right to comment on public issues and criticize public officials and public institutions is essential for the exercise of civil and political freedoms so valued by democratic society.”

The court quoted with approval the following passages found in several decisions of Sri Lankan courts:

“The right to support or to criticise governments and political parties, policies and programmes is fundamental to the democratic way of life; ...and democracy requires not
merely that dissent be tolerated, but that it be encouraged.”

“Criticism of the Government, and of political parties and policies, is per se, a permissible exercise of the freedom of speech and expression under Article14 (1) (a).”

Given that the very prospect of being arrested for expressing harsh criticism or dissent can itself have a chilling effect that would erode the citizens’ freedom to openly share critical views or freely comment on important matters as members/stakeholders of society, utmost care and restraint should be exercised in causing the arrest of any person for an offence pertaining to alleged ‘fake news' prior to a full investigation of any complaint.

Furthermore, the BASL noted that it would be consistent with due respect for democratic values and freedoms, for any decision to arrest without warrant to be resorted to keeping in mind the spirit of preserving fundamental freedoms and the need to avoid suppressing or oppressing the right to free expression of views.

"In our view this would be better achieved, if any decision to arrest or charge any person is taken only after careful due consideration and professional assessment that there is a real and reasonable prospect of an alleged offence in law being committed, with advice from the Attorney General as may be warranted in the relevant context.," it said.

"Needless to say, enforcement of the law must be fair, even-handed and non-selective in its application, the importance of which we urge you to consistently uphold," it said, adding that they will continue to monitor any violations of the 'Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law' in respect thereof and will make further legal interventions where necessary.

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SSP Shani Abeysekera, SI Sugath Mendis granted bail

The Court of Appeal granted bail to former Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) SSP Shani Abeysekera and Sub Inspector Sugath Mendis today (16).

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UNP slams fuel hike: Calls it an 'indication of Govt.'s short-sighted policies'

The United National Party (UNP) says that the Government's recent fuel price hike is another indication of their continued economic mismanagement and short-sighted policies.

"This Government's refusal to continue the positive measures introduced by the UNP Government has resulted in a growing financial burden being endured by the public," the UNP's Central Medias Unit said in a statement on Friday (11).

The Government yesterday increased fuel prices after 21 months that is bound to increase the cost of living amidst the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Ministry of Energy, the price of 92 octane petrol has been increased by Rs. 20 per liter and 95 octane petrol by Rs. 23 per liter.

The price of a liter of auto diesel has been increased by Rs. 07 and the price of a liter of super diesel by Rs. 12.

The price of kerosene liter has been increased by 07 rupees.

Although global oil prices fell as low as USD 30.38 a barrel in May 2020, the SLPP Government had rejected the fuel price formula introduced by the UNP in 2018.

"This meant that the local fuel prices did not reduce to reflect the global prices. Savings which could have been incurred by the drop in global prices were not passed onto the consumers," the Party noted.

As the economy continues to stagnate in Sri Lanka while citizens' earnings reduce drastically due to the prolonged lockdown, the UNP said that this latest fuel hike will only increase the financial burden on the public, adding that "this is a key indicator of this Government's financial mismanagement."

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Persons responsible for the import of luxury SUVs during a pandemic should resign - Eran

Opposition lawmaker Eran Wickramaratne yesterday accused the government of failing to pass on the benefit of low oil prices in the world market last year to the people but was quick to burden them with the higher prices this year.

“Global oil prices came down in 2020 to average $ 43 per barrel compared to $ 64 in 2019, but no benefit to Lankan consumers,” the SJB MP tweeted. “Fuel import saving $ 1.3 billion in 2020 but CPC public guaranteed debt increased by 16% in 2020 to Rs. 345 billion. Government management is costing citizens at every level,” Wickramaratne added.

Pointing out that the blame game on fuel price increase is a farce, the former state finance minister said the government must be held accountable for its multiple failures.

"I propose that those who made the decision to import vehicles during a pandemic and economic crisis resign," Wickramaratne said on Twitter.

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Travael restrictions extended to 21st June

Travel restrictions been extended to 04 AM on 21st of June, said Sri Lanka’s Army Commander.

The Army Commander noted that even though the travel restrictions are extended apparel factories, construction services, essential services can operate.

In addition, economic centers in the country can only open on designated dates.

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