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Geneva debacle further divides UNP

Opposition leader Ranil Wickreme-singhe leaves for Sikkim tomorrow on his continuing journeys of visiting Buddhist places of worship in the North Eastern Indian highlands. Enroute he will be stopping over at the Taj Hotel in New Delhi where he will be also attending the conference on "Delivering Inclusive and Sustainable Development". It is organised by the South Asian Policy and Research Institute (Sapri) of which former President Chandrika Kumaratunga is the chairperson.

According to Ms. Kumaratunga, 'Sapri' is a non-partisan and not-for-profit institute spanning the South Asian region from Afghanistan to Bhutan and the Maldives. Among its objectives is to provide its research based colloquia to decision makers, opinion leaders and social activists "who may wish to adopt best practices". A local wag was to say that 'Sapri' ought to have been there a decade or so ago.

In New Delhi, Mr. Wickremesinghe is due to meet Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.
Back at home, Wickremesinghe's party continues to be divided. This week several of its partymen were complaining that they were not given an opportunity to speak at the two-day Parliamentary debate on the 'Geneva debacle'.

A party spokesman, however, said that the decision to hold a two-day debate was taken only last Friday and the UNP had decided to ask Ravi Karunanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekera and Ajith Perera to speak. Then, Harin Fernando's name was included together with the three MPs who studied the LLRC report, viz., former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, former Deputy Foreign Minister Lakshman Kiriella and former Speaker Joseph Michael Perera. The UNP Leader had then asked M. Swaminathan, a National List MP, to be added.

The spokesman said that suddenly on Monday and Tuesday several MPs said they wanted to speak. Among them were Sajith Premadasa, Karu Jayasuriya and Rosy Senanayake. These were from the Premadasa faction. Then, some Wickremesinghe supporters came forward. They included John Amaratunga, Palitha Ranga Bandara and Eran Wickremaratne. All these names were struck off the list of speakers. Any chance of them speaking would have existed only if the TNA was not to particpate in the debate, but it did.

The bickering between the two factions will continue after the Avurudhu holidays with the party planning its May Day rally in Jaffna this year and the Premadasa faction asking its supporters to ignore the Jaffna rally and attend the Government-backed commemoration for the death anniversary of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa on the same day in Colombo.

Nigeria and Mauritius were engaged too late

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris explained in Parliament why there had to be a shift in Sri Lanka's foreign policy in keeping with the "ground realties" of today.

He emphasized that countries such as Nigeria and Mauritius were among the nations Sri Lanka was focusing its attention on. Ironically both countries were among the 24 that voted against Sri Lanka at the recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Maybe, if the engagement with those countries had begun before and not after the resolution was taken up, the vote might have gone in Sri Lanka's favour.

Dilan makes amends by defending Weerawansa

Not only among opposition MPs, but Minister Weerawansa's 'Boycott Gmail and Google' slogan had become a matter of ridicule among several Government members.

At last Wednesday's Cabinet meeting President Mahinda Rajapaksa had asked ministers to refrain from attacking each other in public. Minister Dilan Perera, who publicly compared Minister Weerawansa's comments to "wearing a sarong and standing on one's head', was quick to respond.

"Today I defended him (Weerawansa) from the attacks made against him by (MP) Mangala Samaraweera," he said and then asked the President if that should even things out. "That balances about one third of it," was the President's reply.

From slaughter house to sanctity of temple

An owner of a beef stall in Jaffna wanted to maximize his profits and thought he would give advance publicity to a bull which was due to be slaughtered.

He put up posters in the town with the picture of the animal which he had purchased from a government farm. A list of the stalls the beef would be available too was on display.

The villagers soon alerted the Government Agent Emelda Sukukumar who issued an order to the Police to prohibit the slaughter of the animal as it could create disharmony.

The owner of the beef stall then decided to seek the intervention of the courts to go ahead with the slaughter of the animal. Now the businessmen in the area have come to the rescue of the animal.

They have collected Rs. 200,000 and paid it to the owner and handed over the bull to a temple.

Bandula before court of journalists

The much-awaited debate on the statement made by Education Minister Bandula Gunawardena that a family of three need only Rs. 7,500 a month for food took place on Tuesday over a private TV channel.

Mr. Gunawardena's opponent was UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake. The Minister went on to quote examples from leading school hostels saying the cost of a student's food bill for a month was less than Rs. 2,500. A viewer called in, to question whether the minister thought all were living in hostels where food was provided at subsidized rates.

Most viewers were not satisfied with the explanation given by the minister. A journalist at this week's post-Cabinet news conference told the Acting Cabinet spokesman and Deputy Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena that they need to further question Minister Gunawardena on his statement. He wanted him brought to the next news conference. Mr. Abeywardena agreed.

NTC violates windscreen sticker rules

It was last year that the Police banned the display of stickers on the rear windscreen of buses saying they were one of the causes for accidents.

Police stopped buses on the roadside and tore down the stickers. But now it seems that the National Transport Commission which is expected to regularlise the private bus services itself is violating the law.

Still worse is the fact that the NTC sticker also mentions the name of Private Transport Minister C.B. Ratnayake.

Google Thunmulle Wimale

Minister Wimal Weerawansa's anti-US and anti-UN rhetoric has reached comical proportions in recent times with the call to boycott Gmail and Google being the absurdity of absurdities. As nonsensical as it sounds, at least it has provided verbal fodder for opposition politicians such as MP Harin Fernando.

He coined a name for Minister Weerawansa during his speech in Parliament when he made a reference to Google Mudiyanse-lage Thunmulle Wimale. When some Government MPs protested at the insinuation, Fernando suggested that if the cap fitted, anyone was free to wear it.

Provincial minister goes on breaking the law

A North Western Provincial minister continues to use a vehicle without a number plate. This has been going on for more than one year. The wife of the minister also uses a vehicle without a number plate. In the picture the minister is seen with the vehicle without the number plate.

Gallup Poll says 53 percent of Lankans struggling for survival

Bryant Ott writing in the Gallup website says more Sri Lankans are suffering since the war ended in 2009 with one half of Sri Lankans lacking money for necessary food and shelter.

"His report said: WASHINGTON, D.C.-- More Sri Lankans are suffering today than before the decades-long civil war in the country ended in 2009. One in five or more Sri Lankans have rated their lives poorly enough to be considered "suffering" over the past three years, underscoring the challenges many continue to face as their nation heals.

"Gallup classifies respondents as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. People are considered thriving if they rate their current lives a 7 or higher and expectations for their lives in five years an 8 or higher. People who rate their current or future lives a 4 or lower are classified as suffering. All others are considered struggling.

"Suffering percentages worldwide have ranged from as low as 1% to as high as 40% in recent years. The one in five or more Sri Lankans who are suffering falls roughly in the middle, and is similar to the levels that Gallup finds in many developing countries.

"In the three years since fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam officially ceased, Sri Lanka's economy posted consecutive years of 8% GDP growth. These improvements came only after Sri Lanka received a loan of more than $2 billion from the International Monetary Fund to avoid further effects from the global financial crisis. But the percentage of the population that is suffering indicates that not all Sri Lankans are reaping the benefits of the country's recent economic growth.

"In fact, more Sri Lankans than ever before are struggling to afford the basics. A majority of Sri Lankans (53%) said in 2011 that there were times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed, and nearly as many (46%) said they struggled to afford adequate shelter. These are the highest percentages Gallup has measured in the country since 2006 and they rival those in Afghanistan -- 45% of Afghans said they lacked necessary money for food in the past year, 52% said the same about adequate shelter -- as the highest in the region.

"Sri Lankans are hopeful, however, that their standard of living is improving. About two-thirds of Sri Lankans in 2011 and 2010 said their standard of living was getting better, significantly higher than the slim majority who said so in 2009."

The Gallup Poll is the division of Gallup, a Washington-headquartered research firm, and it regularly conducts public opinion polls in more than 140 countries around the world. Gallup Polls are often referenced in the mass media as a reliable and objective audience measurement public opinion.

Threat or sweat, President marks Earth Hour

President Mahinda Rajapaksa was at the President's House in Kandy on March 31 when Sri Lanka joined the rest of the world to celebrate Earth Hour by switching off electricity for one hour. The assigned time was from 8.30 p.m to 9.30 p.m.

Before the Earth Hour, the members of the President's security were concerned about the place going dark due to security threats that may crop up.

There were also worries that it may be too warm for the President once the electricity was switched off, but Western Province Environment Minister Udaya Gammanpila who was present said that President was used to sweating (Janadhipathi thumata dadiyadala hondata hurui).

The President was himself keen that if the Earth Hour is being observed it should be done the proper way. Hence by 8.30 p.m., he turned off the main switch that provided electricity to the President's House, plunging the place into darkness.

The place was lit with lamps and candles and during this time schoolchildren and other speakers took part in an education programme on the need to conserve power. An hour later, the President, once again turned the main switch on lighting up the place.

The event ended with those present being given souvenirs detailing how the Earth Hour was marked in Sri Lanka and that President Rajapaksa became the 15th world leader to join in the global effort to conserve power.

Cannonball Run takes off with a bang

The annual Cannonball Run marking a historic event took place at the Galle Face Hotel on Thursday.

Veteran British lawmaker Lord Naseby and a host of invitees were present at the occasion.

British High Commissioner John Rankin and Canadian High Commissioner Bruce Levy (See picture below) were among those who took part in this year’s annual run.

The Cannonball Run marks an incident where a Cannonball had mis-fired during a practice session of a British artillery regiment on the Galle Face Green, and shot almost a mile down the Green, scoring a direct hit on the roof of the drawing room from where it rolled and came to rest beneath a chair.

The Governor at that time Sir Collin Campbell on hearing of the incident arrived to view “the incredible cannonball” and the mischief done. Over the years the Galle Face hotel has marked this event with the Cannonball Run.

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