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Speculation over Colombo's mayoral candidates

Hours before emplaning on his four-day official visit to China, President Mahinda Rajapaksa chaired a meeting of the Government Parliamentary group. With elections to 23 local councils round the corner, he raised the question of who would be the Mayoral candidate for Colombo.

Some felt that incumbent Special Commissioner Omar Kamil was the front-runner, and there is speculation that former Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda is in the running. But neither of them is in the government parliamentary group. So, looking at Duminda Silva the President remarked "will Duminda or Thilanga Sumathipala come forward."

Silva, a protégé of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was to decline the offer and said he was willing to back Sumathipala. The latter smiled but remained quiet.

In the opposition, United National Party (UNP) rumours were rife that Anoma, wife of former General Sarath Fonseka, now serving a jail sentence, would be the candidate. It came because Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and General Secretary Tissa Attanayake visited the Welikade Prison to see Fonseka on Thursday.

Ms. Fonseka was however to issue a statement this week that she was not willing to enter politics and that she was only interested in having her husband released. She also took a broadside at Wickremesinghe in an interview published in the Irida Lankadeepa today. She said several opposition leaders and those in the DNA (Democratic National Alliance) "with the exception of Wickremesinghe" were struggling to have her husband released.

UNP sources say Wickremesinghe and Attanayake visited Fonseka to explain that they were unable to attend the protest rally in Colombo to demand the release of Fonseka last Tuesday because they were participating in a UNP rally in Matara.

They were in Matara attending a protest rally titled Saatakaye Saapaya (Curse of the Shawl) arranged by Mangala Samaraweera, head of UNP's communications unit. When the rally neared its close, protestors attempted to burn an effigy of President Rajapaksa. However, it was taken away by the Police.

Taking part in the Fonseka rally (and keeping away from the Mangala Samaraweera organised Matara rally) were Sajith Premadasa and JVP's Anura Kumara Dissanayake among others.

President steps in to have Kadirgamar alms giving

The annual alms giving in memory of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, one of the country's illustrious Foreign Ministers, was not to be held this year as usual at the Institute of Foreign Relations and Strategic Studies started by him, and after his death, named after him. The official reason -- External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris was not going to be in the country.

This disconcerting news angered President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he learnt about it. He was at the family alms giving the previous Saturday at the late Lakshman Kadirgamar's residence in Bullers Lane. He promptly ordered External Affairs Ministry officials present at the occasion to make arrangements to have an alms giving at the Institute. He noted that the absence of the Minister was no cause for an annual function to be cancelled.

On Friday, the sixth anniversary of the assassination of the late Minister, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of Foreign Relations and Strategic Studies duly held the alms giving under the aegis of the External Affairs Ministry, but alas, it had to be on the directive of President Rajapaksa.

The contributions made by the late Lakshman Kadirgamar were not lost on many. Just weeks ago, the outgoing Indian External Affairs Ministry Secretary, Nirupama Rao, was in Colombo on her farewell call. She was quitting as Secretary and moving to Washington DC as India's ambassador. Her decision to spend the last three days of her tenure as Foreign Secretary in Colombo caused a bit of a stir even in India.

She must have some special affection for Sri Lanka, where she had spent time both as a junior diplomat and then as High Commissioner, despite her official stance that sometimes seemed hostile to Sri Lanka.
A luncheon was given in her honour by Indian High Commissioner Ashok Kantha. The host was to deliver a short speech followed by Ms. Rao herself. At the end of the two speeches, a leading Sri Lankan business entrepreneur at the table turned to Minister G.L. Peiris and asked "why don't you respond to that speech on behalf of Sri Lanka?" There was a blank look from the Minister followed by total silence.

The entrepreneur then turned to those close to him and remarked "if Lakshman Kadirgamar was here, he would have kept the country's flag flying." Another, however, said "No, that wouldn't have happened". When the others asked him "why not", he replied; "Lakshman Kadirgamar knew his protocol not to be here in the first place".

Interestingly, Ms. Rao who had an excellent professional rapport with the late Minister paid a private visit to his widow, Suganthie Kadirgamar's residence the same evening and exchanged pleasantries before she left early the next morning.

Gori before the glory for Mr. Speaker

There was a heated exchange between Deputy Speaker Chandima Weerakkody and Parliament Secretry General Dhammika Kitulgoda over a reception.

Mr. Kitulgoda had arranged a reception when Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, arrived in Parliament for the first time after he was elected President of the British-based Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). He was with garlands in hand for the arrival of the Speaker, when Deputy Speaker Weerakkody arrived.

He asked Mr.Kitulgoda what was going on. He said it was a reception for the Speaker on being elected CPA President. "Why did'nt you tell me," exhorted Mr. Weerakkody. The Secretary General had replied that it was arranged by the staff.

A strong exchange of words ensued, but when the Speaker arrived, both stopped the verbal duel and walked together to receive him. The differences were patched up by that act.

Clash at UPFA poll talks

There was a heated exchange between a senior Cabinet minister and a new comer to the ministerial ranks. The new comer said at a discussion that his party, now a constituent partner of the UPFA (United People's Freedom Alliance), would like to field candidates on the party ticket at the upcoming local polls.
The remarks enraged the senior minister. He shouted as loud as he could to make it clear "if you are with the UPFA, you will have to contest on our ticket."

The new comer was to later complain that even President Mahinda Rajapaksa did not speak to him that way. His colleagues say "Insha Allah (God Willing) we will fight it out because we want to retain our identity as a party."

Cabinet reshuffle: What do the stars say?

Many government politicians seemed unaware that a year-end Cabinet re-shuffle has now been put off for early next year.

They are going in their scores to see astrologers. The idea is to determine whether they have prospects of becoming Cabinet ministers.

Sumanadasa Abeywickrema, an astrologer most sought after by UPFA leaders, has had a record turnout this week.

Sinha sees China factor in India's silence over Lanka

At a New Delhi rally arranged by the MDMK (Marumalartchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam) leader, Vaiko to protest the Indian government's "silence" on the Report by the UN Panel of Experts, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leaders Yashwant Sinha and LJP (Lok Janashakthi Party) chief Ram Vilas Paswan criticised New Delhi for citing China's growing influence as a reason for India's engagement with Sri Lanka.

Sinha, who was External Affairs Minister during the NDA regime, criticised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his reported remarks that India cannot impose economic sanctions against Sri Lanka as it would encourage China to displace it as a strategic and trading partner of the island nation.

"This shows mere helplessness that we have lost all our clout and friends and that we have to surrender ourselves to China. It is a matter of shame for our country and it is a matter of greater shame for the government," he was quoted as saying in Indian media reports said.

The reports come as both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are billed to discuss the Sri Lankan issues on Tuesday.

Health Minister drops bombshell on highway corruption

Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena dropped a bombshell at a top-level conference this week.

When it came to question time, he said there was widespread corruption in the construction of highways.

He said this had now become a well-known fact and warned that if it was not brought under control, the people would soon begin to question the Government. This would make it difficult to proceed with development work, he said.

The conference was held at the Central Bank and chaired by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. He made a detailed presentation of the progress being made on development activity. He also had surprises to Ministers and Parliamentarians in the form of financial allocations for development activity.

When the meeting ended, the talking point among those who took part was the bold remarks made by Mr. Sirisena. After all, the fact that Rs 400 million has been paid for the construction of a four-kilometre road in the Eastern Province, just an example of the unbridled corruption that is taking place, was not lost on him. Nor is the fact that a handful of private companies are becoming richer by the day.

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