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ESCAPE: Sim Leisure to operate Sri Lanka's first world class Theme Park

Sri Lanka will soon commence construction on a world class theme park along the country's southern coast in order to promote adventure tourism.

Leading international theme park developer and operator, Sim Leisure Group Ltd, entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sri Lanka's Elpitiya Plantations PLC, to set up its world-class ESCAPE theme park in Galle, a statement from Elpitiya Plantations said.

The statement said having been granted the preliminary approval to commence construction and barring unforeseen circumstances, Sim Leisure aims to commence the construction of "ESCAPE Sri Lanka" in March 2020.

The theme park will be located halfway between capital Colombo and the main beach resort of Galle.

"I see tremendous opportunity in the Sri Lankan market with its population of over 20 million. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries, which is unspoilt and green. The country's unpolluted coastline and beaches bring tourists from all over the world and its tourism industry is growing at an incredible pace," said Sim Leisure CEO Sim Choo Kheng.

He also highlighted that Sri Lanka has tremendous untapped potential for family leisure, compared to East Asia, with a natural advantage by setting up the first large-scale theme park in Sri Lanka.

The theme park will include an outdoor adventure theme park and water park and approximately 40 themed rides and attractions in three categories - Adventureplay, Waterplay and Gravityplay. (Xinhua)

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Gotabaya must resolve the national anthem issue

An issue that has surfaced and which is causing heartburn among Tamil-speaking citizens is the likelihood that the national anthem will not be sung in Tamil at the forthcoming National Independence Day celebrations on February 4.  Government members have been making contradictory statements on this issue.  Some of them have openly declared that the national anthem will not be sung in Tamil on this occasion whereas Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that no final decision has been taken on this matter.  

The National Peace Council (NPC) in a statement today said that they are concerned about the government’s delay in taking a decision on this issue.  

"Adding to our concerns is the provocative action of a government minister who went to the predominantly Tamil-speaking north and ordered the name board of an institution under his ministry to be redone so that the Sinhala wording comes on top and the Tamil wording below it," NPC said.

The national anthem issue is deeply upsetting to Tamil-speaking citizens in general, and not only in the north, who see the step motherly treatment meted out to the Tamil language.  The issue of language was a key dividing factor in the early years of Sri Lanka’s independence and one of the root causes of the ethnic conflict that escalated into a three decade-long internal war.  

"We need to learn from the past. The National Peace Council calls on the government to take this issue seriously as it affects the sense of dignity, equality and sense of belonging of those who are Tamil-speakers. It is a travesty that this issue should be re-ignited today a full decade after the end of that war by those who do not believe in the plural nature of our multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual and plural society.  The Sri Lankan constitution gives equal place to the Sinhala and Tamil languages, and also ensures that in Tamil will be the language of administration in Tamil majority areas," the statement said.

 In his inaugural speech at his swearing in ceremony, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa noted that he has been elected by the Sinhala Buddhist majority, but he would be the president of all Sri Lankans whether or not they had voted for him.  He was elected by the people to develop the country and to ensure national security. As Sri Lanka has a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual and plural society it is important that the president should be responsive to this reality in his decision making.  

The development and national security that Sri Lanka needs will be best secured by citizens who feel that they are treated equally by the state and equally belong to the country.  The NPC said that they believe that the president, as the head of state and head of government is the person who can and should make the decision regarding the singing of the national anthem in Tamil prior to Independence Day, on which day he will take the centre stage as the president of all Sri Lankans. 

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Mano Tittawella passes away

The former Chairman of People's Bank Mano Tittawella has passed away this morning in Melbourne, Australia.

Tittawella functioned as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM), which is entrusted with coordinating transitional justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka.

He also served as the Senior Adviser to the former Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera.

Tittawella was the Senior Presidential Advisor on Economic Affairs and was the Senior Director General – President’s Office from August 2003 to November 2005.

He was the first Chairman and the Chief Executive Officer of the Strategic Enterprises Management Agency (SEMA), which was an initiative that he promoted to bring better accountability, good governance and enhanced performance to the largest public enterprises in Sri Lanka.

Apart from serving on the Board of National Council for Economic Development (NCED), which was the apex body, coordinating all economic development activities in Sri Lanka, he served as Chairman of Task Force to Rebuild the Nation (TAFREN), which was set-up to handle post-tsunami reconstruction and recovery of the country.

Tittawella has held many other key positions in the State sector, such as Director General of Public Enterprises Reform Commission (PERC) – the then privatisation agency of the Government of Sri Lanka and Chairman of People’s Bank – a State-owned bank in Sri Lanka, along with many board positions in some of Sri Lanka’s largest state sector enterprises. Tittawella has over 35 years’ experience in senior positions in the private sector as well.

He has an MBA in Capital Markets & Finance, from the University of Edinburgh and a Post-graduate Diploma in Human Computer Interaction from the British Open University. He was also a Member of the International Board of Trustees (IBT) of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) UK, from 2000 to 2003.

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Visa on arrival for Chinese citizens suspended but are still allowed entry to SL

The government has suspended its policy of granting visa on arrival for Chinese travellers on Tuesday (28), a day after the health authorities detected the country's first coronavirus infection.

Sudath Suraweera, the chief epidemiologist of the country's health ministry, said on Monday that a 40-year-old Chinese woman was found positive for the virus.

"She arrived on January 19 and was tested positive for the virus when she was leaving the airport on January 25. She was admitted to the infectious diseases hospital," he said.

Chinese tourists can still visit

Following the first detection of the coronavirus case, the Sri Lankan health authorities ordered the suspension of the on arrival visa policy for the Chinese nationals.

Travellers from China must apply for visa via the online portal, the authorities said.

However, anxiety is growing amid evidence that the disease has an incubation period of as long as two weeks before those infected start to show signs of the illness. That raises the possibility that people who are carrying the virus but don’t show symptoms could infect others.

The Chinese tourist that had contracted the virus spent two weeks in the island before showing any symptoms.

Several countries have placed temporary restrictions on Chinese tourists in an effort to contain the virus from entering their borders.

Sri Lanka has become a major travel destination for Chinese tourists and many Chinese nationals also work on Chinese-funded infrastructure projects - including a sea port, port city and highways.

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Sri Lanka reports more than 8,400 dengue cases in January

Health officials continue to see high numbers of dengue fever during the beginning of 2020.

During January, health officials saw 8,435 cases, including more than 1000 cases in Colombo and Trincomalee districts, data from the Ministry of Health showed.

This comes as Sri Lankan officials plan to launch a pilot project to combat dengue by means of Wolbachia bacteria on Feb. 17.

National Dengue Control Unit (NDCU) Director Dr. Anura Jayasekera said the bacteria ‘Wolbachia’ is to be injected into the bodies of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and will commence in Dematagoda and Nugegoda areas.

Wolbachia, inside the body of the vector, competes with the virus for food and energy, making it hard for the virus to reproduce inside the mosquitoes, inhibiting the transmission of the virus. The bacterial is naturally passed on from one mosquito generation to another through eggs. Safe for humans and the environment the release of Wolabachia induced A. aegypti by the NDCU is scheduled to happen during the first two weeks of February.

Meanwhile, the cause for high-rise of the dengue patients, during the past two months of January and December 2019 is due to the changing weather patterns and the latent serotype being active (DENV3), said Dr. Jayasekera.

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Norwegian Ambassador opens Sri Lanka’s first floating solar plant

Norwegian Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal inaugurated Sri Lanka’s first-ever floating solar plant with a capacity of 42KW located at the Kilinochchi campus of the Jaffna University recently.

The project is a result of the research collaboration since 2017 between the University of Jaffna and the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Colombo.

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Gotabaya orders probe into multi-million dollar 'SriLankan' bribe

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered a fresh investigation Sunday into a multi-billion dollar aircraft purchase involving the island’s loss-making national carrier, days after Airbus settled corruption probes in Europe and the U.S.

A French court on Friday (31) approved a deal allowing Airbus to pay €3.6 billion ($4 billion) in fines to Britain, France and the U.S. to settle corruption cases sparked by suspicious equipment sales.

One of the allegations cited in a judgment and released by a London court Friday concerned the purchase of aircraft by SriLankan Airlines.

Investigators had accused Airbus of failing to prevent persons associated with the company from bribing directors or employees of the airline to “obtain or retain business or advantage.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office said the president had ordered a comprehensive investigation into the reports.

Sri Lanka’s previous government also called for a criminal investigation into the 2013 purchase of 10 Airbus aircraft, but it petered out without conclusion.

Sri Lanka’s national carrier is deeply in the red, with estimated accumulated losses of $1.24 billion and debt of about $750 million.

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Lawyers protest against Attorney General

A silent protest organised by lawyers was held outside the Colombo Fort Magistrate Court premises today against Attorney General (AG) Dappula de Livera’s order to arrest Embilipitiya High Court Judge Gihan Pilapitiya.

The lawyers also protested against the undue influence of the Attorney General into the independence of the High Court and observed that the Attorney General does not have the jurisdiction to call for an order against Judge Pilapitiya.

The Attorney General ordered the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) to obtain a warrant for the arrest of the interdicted Embilipitiya High Court Judge yesterday (23).

Judge Gihan Pilapitiya is in the spotlight over an incriminating tele-conversation with UNP MP Ranjan Ramanayake.

The protesters further questioned as to why interdicted Solicitor General Dilrukshi Dias Wickremesinghe did not go through the same process as Pilapitiya.

The protesters also claimed that a few of the AG’s juniors are responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks and are currently roaming free.

AG undue

ag undue 2

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High Court Judge Gihan Pilapitiya's father passes away

Dhanapala Bandara Herath Pilapitiya, the father of High Court Judge Gihan Pilapitiya, passed away at a private hospital in Colombo this morning after having been hospitalized due to a heart attack.

Mr. Herath Pilapitiya had been in severe shock over the past few days after the Attorney General ordered the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) to obtain a warrant and arrest his son over the controversial telephone conversation with MP Ranjan Ramanayake.

The funeral will take place at Kalawana, tomorrow (30).

Speaker meets Attorney General

Meanwhile, Attorney General Dappula de Livera has met Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. The Parliament Media Unit stated that the meeting had taken place pertaining to matters discussed at the Constitutional Council regarding the directive issued by the AG to arrest former High Court Judge Gihan Pilapitiya.

Particular attention was paid to the request made by the Attorney General to arrest Judge Pilapitiya when the Constitutional Council chaired by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya convened.

It has been discussed at length in the Constitutional Council that the AG's order would jeopardize public confidence in the judiciary and affect the independence of the judicial system and the professional dignity of judges.

Accordingly, it has been decided to summon the Attorney General to the Constitutional Council to inquire into the matter.

The National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader Minister Wimal Weerawansa said in Parliament yesterday that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has ordered the immediate suspension of the interdicted High Court Judge Gihan Pilapitiya.

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Carry out your duties without fear or favour: President instructs Police

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has stated that law enforcement officers should carry out their duties without any fear or favour, but their actions should strictly be in compliance with the law.

The President's Media Division (PMD) in a statement said that President Rajapaksa has instructed that any arrests should be carried out only when absolutely necessary and in strict compliance of the law.

As arrest is not part of the punishment and results in the serious deprivation of liberty of citizens and other significant implications such as loss of reputation and standing in the society, arrests are to be carried out only when absolutely necessary and upon a decision taken with utmost care and in strict compliance of the law, President Rajapaksa instructed Acting Inspector General of Police, Senior DIG C. D. Wickramaratne.

President further directed the Police to ensure that any necessity for impending arrests should be made entirely on the professional judgment.

Due respect should be given by officers discharging such duties to the Members of Parliament as representatives of the people and professionals such as Doctors, the PMD statement noted.

"The Police was further directed by the President to apply same equally to all citizens of Sri Lanka without any discrimination whatsoever nature and under no circumstances carried out for extraneous purposes and should not tolerate any undue influence," the PMD said.

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Coronavirus: outbreak sparks fake news

The deadly novel coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 4,500 people and spread to 15 countries since emerging in China, has also spawned many false claims on social media.

Here's a selection of misinformation debunked by AFP's Fact Check service.
Fake death projections

In Sri Lanka, a Facebook post shared thousands of times claimed doctors were projecting that the entire population of Wuhan -- a city of 11 million people -- would likely die of the novel coronavirus.

This is false; Chinese authorities have made no such projection.

There is currently no vaccine for the new strain of coronavirus. But the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention stated that most people will recover on their own.

The post also claimed the virus could be caught by eating the meat of the Chinese cobra but this has not yet been established.

Sydney food not contaminated

In Australia, multiple Facebook posts shared hundreds of times claimed to show a list of foods and locations in Sydney which have been contaminated by the new coronavirus strain first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December.

One post, published on January 27, identified different types of rice, cookies and onion rings that allegedly contain traces of the virus. It also claimed that a "bureau of diseasology" had run tests and discovered the strain in several Sydney suburbs.

But the local health authority told AFP the locations listed posed no risk to visitors, and the foods named did not appear in the New South Wales food authority's list of recalls and advisories.
Not Wuhan market

A video viewed more than 88,000 times on Facebook purported to show the market in Wuhan where the virus strain materialised. In reality, it was filmed at an Indonesian market.

The misleading post was published on an account in the Philippines on January 26, 2020. The footage showed bats, rats, snakes and an assortment of other animal meat products being sold at a bustling market.

However, a reverse image search using key frames extracted from the video led to another identical YouTube clip uploaded on July 20, 2019.

AFP was able to confirm the video was in fact captured at the Langowan market in Indonesia's North Sulawesi province.

Salt water can't kill virus

Multiple posts on Weibo, Twitter and Facebook shared in January claimed top Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan had told people to rinse their mouths with salt water solution to prevent infection from a new virus outbreak.

But the claim is bogus; the expert's team said saline would not "kill" the new virus and urged people not to believe or share medically-inaccurate online rumours.

The World Health Organization also told AFP there was no evidence that saline solution would protect against infection from the new coronavirus.
Conspiracy theories

Multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter alleged that the novel coronavirus was created on purpose -- with theories including that it was manufactured by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The posts included patents to buffer their claim. But these were in fact patents registered in an effort to combat different strains of coronavirus, for example by developing vaccines.
False alarm in France

In France, several social media posts have circulated with claims that people had been contaminated with the novel coronavirus in the departments of Val d'Oise, Savoie, Lot-et-Garonne and Pyrenees-Orientales.

These false reports were accompanied by images made to look like they were screenshots from several French news sources -- including AFP.

However, these images were digitally manipulated. No cases have been confirmed in these departments.

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Coronavirus: Around 40 Sri Lankans stranded in Wuhan

About 40 Sri Lankan students and some workers are stuck in Wuhan following the lockdown of the virus-wracked Chinese provincial city and other cities from Thursday morning onwards, Chinese media reported.
Sri Lanka's Foreign Relations Ministry has directed the Sri Lankan Embassy in Beijing to contact the 40 Sri Lankan students as well as others employed there and make necessary arrangements to ensure their safety.

Two more Chinese cities were put on lock down by the government on Thursday (23), as authorities in the Chinese gambling center of Macau said they were weighing closures of its casinos, expanding an unprecedented experiment to try to contain a fast-spreading virus that has killed 25 people and infected more than 800.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declined to declare the outbreak a global public health emergency, citing a limited number of cases abroad and efforts under way to bring it under control.

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