Human rights groups have launched an islandwide campaign protesting against the winding up of the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), with one party leader asking whether the government was getting rid of the HRTF because it had become a thorn in its flesh.
On Friday about 300 members of a local peace group backed by representatives of international organisations held a demonstration along Dalada Weediya in Kandy calling on the government to allow the HRTF and its regional offices to continue their good work till the new Human Rights Commission (HRC) gets into gear.
Human rights activists said they would hold protest campaigns in Talawa, Anuradhapura, Put–talam, Kegalle and Galewela among other places.
The government says it closed down the HRTF because the new HRC will now play the principal role in monitoring human rights, but NGOs say some findings of the HRTF were unpleasant to the authorities and that was why it was wound up so fast.
S. Balakrishnan, a spokesman for the People's Coalition for Peace and Democracy (PCPD), which organised the demo said the work of the HRTF could be linked up with the new commission and both groups could supplement each other without an overlapping of duties.
He said the regional network of the HRTF had done great service in looking after the rights of detainees outside Colombo and at least those offices should be continued.
Under intense pressure from various quarters officials said on Friday, the government had decided to allow HRTF regional offices to continue till July 30.
EROS leader Srikantha said he believed the HRTF had become a thorn in the flesh for the government and that was the reason why it was being sidelined or suppressed.
Meanwhile, the Mothers' Front and other civic rights groups in Jaffna, disturbed over the postponement of their meeting with President Chandrika Kum–aratunga, has decided to launch a new campaign to protest against disappearances of youth, torture or harassment in the north.
The controversy surrounding Alexandra College in Colombo continues with contradictory claims from the property owners and the principal while students remain without classes.
The contradictory statements came amidst reports that there were moves to put up a Muslim international school in the premises.
The owner of the Alexandra property, Parakrama Harischandra Weliwitigoda told The Sunday Times, inaccurate statements had been made on the issue. He said the property had been sold to a Muslim businessman by his family and not by the school principal as reported by some quarters.
The dispute began last month when the owner of the land asked the school authorities to vacate the premises. After obtaining a court order the owners demolished the school buildings.
With hundreds of students left stranded the Govt. intervened and said it would use emergency regulations to enable Alexandra College to continue in the same premises near the Town Hall with temporary sheds as classrooms until the school is rebuilt.
But though two weeks have passed the emergency regulations have not been gazetted or implemented, leading to further uncertainty, claims and counter claims.
Till things are sorted out, senior students were asked to follow their classes at a building in Maradana while juniors were told to go to Jaya school near the Town Hall.
But the senior students have not gone to the new building in Maradana, with parents and teachers alleging that the temporary premises were also being used as a massage parlour.
They said the junior students had no proper facilities at Jaya school and in any event the owner of the school had yet not agreed to the temporary arrangement.
The latest allegation is that politicians have got involved and are using the students as pawns to achieve their own ends.
There was speculation of a move by a group to convert the Alexandra College into a Muslim international school, but this was denied by others.
Former leader of the Opposition and UNP MP Anura Bandaranaike who is celebrating his 25th year in politics has invited Pakistan's former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as a special guest of honour for the main function at the BMICH in Colombo on July 25.
Sonia Gandhi, widow of former Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi also has been invited as a guest, but she is yet to confirm her participation on the occasion which is due to be attended by several foreign dignitaries, diplomats and leading politicians in Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike has been invited as the chief guest for the function. Mr. Bandaranaike became the youngest opposition leader in parliament when he was elected to the post in 1983 at the age of 34.
Ten new bus services have been introduced starting from Colombo to carry home the crowds coming into the city, Transport and Highways Minister A.H.M. Fowzie said.
The new bus services will start from near the SLBC head office at Torrington, the Town Hall, Kollupitiya and the Central Bus-stand at Pettah, and go to Moratuwa, Kadawata and Piliyandala," said Mr. Fowzie.
The Minister said that in addition to that he had comprehensive plans to develop the transport sector, "but it is an extremely difficult task though," he said pointing out the difficulty in raising the revenue.
According to Mr. Fowzie, who also holds the Highways portfolio, fly-overs, underground pedestrian crossings, electric trains, and a new fleet of luxury buses are to come into operation.
He said that passengers who generally travel by vehicles of their own could travel in these luxury buses which will conform to high standards, for Rs. 25 for any distance.
Mr. Fowzie said he had made arrangements to allow buses to travel only on one lane to ease traffic jams in the mornings and the afternoons. However preference for overtaking would be given to buses as they carry many people as compared to other vehicles. (Also see Business Page 1)
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