A fragile national unity in Parliament
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent
Parliament on Tuesday observed two minutes silence in memory of the thousands of people killed in the December 26 tsunami disaster. It was a unique day with all parties putting aside their usual bickering and concentrating on the catastrophe that has affected the country, from the north to the south and east to the west.

Speaker W.J.M. Lokubandara began the proceedings by conveying the sympathies of the House to those affected by the disaster. The whole day was devoted to discuss the aftermath of the tsunami and how best to handle relief work.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse had the grim task of informing the House about the scale of devastation in terms of human lives ands property. More than 30,000 were dead of which 12,000 were children, more than 16,000 were injured and nearly a million displaced, he said.

"No amount of money can compensate for the loss of life but our people have shown their resilience in the wake of this disaster," the Premier said. He said the tragedy could be a blessing in disguise if people unite. It would be the greatest tribute that the people could pay to the victims of this disaster, Mr. Rajapakse said.

He was not alone. Almost all the MPs who spoke stressed the need for national unity -- putting aside all political, religious, ethnic and other differences.

But there were some issues on which there could still be differences of opinion between parliamentarians of the north and south. JVP parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa referring to LTTE allegations that areas under its control, were not getting sufficient relief, asked the Tigers to put aside their political agenda for a while and help in the recovery effort. "If they tell us there is a shortage of any item, we will provide them with what they need," he said. Tamil National Alliance leader R. Sampathan said the disaster had dealt a double blow to the people in the north and east who were just enjoying some relief after twenty years of conflict. He urged the government to raise the compensation in respect of those killed in the disaster to at least Rs 100,000 each and help the fishing community which was the worst affected in the disaster. A visibly emotional Fisheries Minister Chandrasekara Wijesinghe said that the fishing industry had been almost destroyed and the reconstruction needed to begin from scratch.

He outlined the massive damage the sector had suffered but said a proper plan of action would be put in place to help the fisherfolk and urged consumers not to be misled by reports that the fish being sold was not suitable for consumption. "If the consumers also turn their backs on this industry, it will suffer more," he said.

Parliament was adjourned till February 8 to enable MPs to concentrate on relief work in the area. Whether the same sense of unity and oneness will still be alive by then is highly questionable because the contentious issue over the imprisonment of UNP politician S.B. Dissanayake though out of the public eye for now is likely to crop up sooner than later.

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