18th February 2001

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Tussle of ministers over student elections

By Shelani de Silva

Impending elections for SLFP students unions in universities has resulted in a tussle between the ruling PA ministers in an attempt to ensure their supporters are elected to the student unions.

With student clashes taking places in universities, top PA politicians are accusing each other of instigating their supporters to create problems.

Forestry and Environment Minister Mahinda Wijesekera told The Sunday Times that at least four senior Cabinet ministers were involved at the Ruhunu University.

This accusation follows last week's allegation that Minister Wijesekera had sent a letter to all Vice Chancellors requesting them to take action against JVP activists and spelling out measures to counter the protest launched by the JVP.

Mr. Wijesekera denied sending a letter and accused the JVP and other elements within the SLFP of sending the letter to discredit him.

Minister Wijesekera told The Sunday Times that it was a conspiracy created by those in the SLFP.

'With the convention to be held in March supporters of ministers who are trying to get into the student body of the SLFP get involved in all kinds of activities. Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, S. B. Dissanayake and Mahinda Rajapakse are all trying to get their supporters elected' he said.

He added that a meeting of the Students' Front will be held on Monday which several ministers will attend.

Meanwhile the JVP last week accused Mr. Wijesekera of sending a letter to universities calling on the officials to organise a program to counter the JVP protests which were carried out in universities to create problems in them.

The letter states that the minister will give all support to counter the JVP protests and even to close down the universities.

However Mr. Wijesekera denied sending such a letter and stated that if he is provided with a copy of the letter he would direct it to the CID to carry out an investigation.

'It could even be the JVP which is behind this. I have never sent such a letter' he said.

Tension has been high in universities and currently the Ruhunu and Kelaniya universities remain closed.

UNP withdraws polls petition

The UNP has withdrawn its election petition challenging the result of the Presidential election held on December 21, 1999 at which Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was elected as President.

The five-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Sarath N.Silva, Justices S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya, Priyantha Perera, Shirani Bandaranayake and D.P.S. Gunesekera accordingly dismissed the petition without costs thereby declaring the poll duly held in accordance with Section 98 of the Presidential Election Act No. 15 of 1981 and upholding the election of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as the duly elected President and her return to office not being affected by the petition.

The court held that, in his submissions, the counsel for the petitioner UNP assistant leader Gamini Atukorale had not adduced any evidence in support of corrupt or illegal practices committed by the President or any of her agents. Further there was no specific allegation of corrupt or illegal practice having been committed.

Court made a report in terms of Section 99 directing the Supreme Court Registrar to forward to the Speaker of Parliament a report in terms of Section 100 of the Presidential Elections Act No. 15 of 1981. Ruling in terms of Rule 11(5) of the 4th Schedule of the Presidential Election Act No15 of 1981, court also ordered a refunding of the security deposited by the petitioner.

In this backdrop, at the UNP's weekly news conference on Thursday, Mr. Atukorale adduced the withdrawal of the election petition to several factors including the disallowing of evidence being lead in relation to the printing of additional ballot papers for specific districts, gross abuse of state media and related matters.

He said that over 100,000 votes were printed for Gampaha and Jaffna districts, which were matters raised when making primary objections but they were instructed by court to restrict the leading of evidence adducing that the conduct of the poll denied 1.2 million votes to the UNP candidate. Mr. Atukorale said that in this situation, the party lawyers were of the view that the petition should be withdrawn.

Athas case put off for seventh time

By Laila Nasry

The case against two Air Force officers who have been indicted for commiting criminal trespass, intimidation and unlawful entry with weapons into the residence of The Sunday Times Defence Columnist Iqbal Athas, more than three years ago was postponed for the seventh time when it was taken up before the Colombo High Court on Friday.

The case has now been re-fixed for April 30 and May 10.

Colombo High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya postponed the case on a request made by the counsel for the second accused on the grounds that he wanted time to prepare for the case and since the Senior State counsel was not present.

Since the Senior State Counsel P. P. Surasena who was due to prosecute was absent, state counsel Sumudu Wickramaarachchi also moved for a date.

In the case the two officers, Flt. Lt. H.M. Rukman Herath, a bodyguard of a former Air Force Commander, and Sq. Ldr. D.S.P.Kannangara, the officer in charge of the Special Airborne Force, have been charged with illegally entering the residence of Mr. Athas and threatening him and other members of his family on the night of February 12, 1998.

The Colombo High Court first took up the case on April 22, 1999 later postponed till December 2000. When the case was taken up last year the court was informed that the first accused's lawyer, A.R.C. Perera had taken a foreign posting and the new lawyer needed more time to prepare for the case. Following the hearing it was postponed for the third time by Judge Andrew Somawansa for Februray 16, March 21 and 22 of this year.

Twelve witness including a prison guard and two CID officers were listed as witness in the case.

The two officers were taken into custody by the CID on a complaint made by Mr. Athas and were produced before the Gangodawila Magistrate for an identification pared. Identified by Mr. Athas and his wife Anoma they were remanded and later released on bail.

The Magistrate further ordered the two Air Force officers to appear before the CID on the last Saturday of each month.

Daya Perera PC with T.G. Gunasekera, Anoja Premaratne, A.M. B. Kiribanda and G.G. Ponnambalam (Jnr) instructed by Tony Amath watched the interests of Mr. and Mrs Athas.

Attorneys Srinath Perera, Christopher de Alwis, Sharmila Daluwatta and Neville Ananda appeared for accused Flt. Lt. H.M. Rukman Herath while Attorneys Ganesh Dharmawardana and D.C.Kannangara appeared for Sq. Ldr. D.S.P.Kannangara.

Kelaniya temple robbed

Police are yet to make a breakthrough or arrest in their investigation into Thursday night robbery of two gold necklaces placed around the casket of relics at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya.

Police said it was still not clear to them how the robbers removed the necklaces on the casket which was inside a chamber.

Gold jewellery is offered by the devotees who visit the historic Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, one of the holiest shrines of Buddhists.

UNP to release final draft

The UNP would release its final draft on the proposed four independent commissions this week and launch a series of programmes to muster support, deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya said He said the UNP was positive that a "collective effort" was definitely possible as many parties were responding positively, specially the JVP.

Seminar on hotel security

The alleged rape of a tourist, robbery of hotel guests and the killing of a hotel owner, in recent months, have driven the tourist industry to look with concern at the current situation.

Having taken stock of the situation, the Industrial Security Foundation is preparing to hold a seminar on countering new threats to the hotel industry.

The seminar which is ideal for managers and executives in the hotel trade handling security functions, training and human resources will be held at Hotel Tangerine, Waskaduwa on February 21.

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