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3rd January 1999
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An innocent child screams in agony.He is one 
of the victims of merry-making with dangerous 
firecrackers. The child was one of the scores of 
victims admitted to hospitals as crackers and fireworks 
exploded all over to mark the dawn of New Year. 
Pic by gemunu Wellage
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600 victims after New Year revelry

By Faraza Farook and Nilika de Silva
Drunken driving and fireworks took a heavy toll during New Year festivities this week.

Police said more than 600 were injured and had to be treated at the National Hospital in Colombo. This included more than 60 brought to NHC from outstations Negombo, Chilaw, Kalutara, Matara, Galle and other areas.

Dr Hector Weerasinghe, Acting Director at the National Hospital, said, "Traffic accidents, caused largely by reported drunken driving, were the highest this year though cracker victims were lower."

"It is a disturbing trend since people fail to take precautions," he told The Sunday Times.

We saw some of the badly injured victims at the NHC yesterday.

Accident victim Nuwan Darshana 12, from Mulleriyawa is unlikely to go to school for several months. He was in plaster and doctors were not sure how long it would take for him to get out of it.

Robinson Samuel (32) went to church for the New Year service and then boarded a bus to travel to Nuwara Eliya. The bus collided with a van. The bus driver was suspected to be drunk.

New Traffic Police chief Camillus Abeygoonewa-rdena declined to comment on the grounds that he was assuming office only on January 5. However, an officer at City Traffic Police said most complaints of accidents during the week have been due to drunken driving. He could not give figures.

However, The Sunday Times learnt traffic accidents amounted to 72 on 31st night and 88 on the first of January. Another 65 injured in brawls have also been treated.

Twenty-eight persons with cracker injuries were warded on new year's eve and on January 1. There had been eight others who had been injured during Christmas too. Two patients had died after admission during the new year, hospital sources said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said although the number of cracker victims had dropped, casualties brought in following other incidents had shown an increase.

At Lady Ridgeway Hospital, The Sunday Times spoke to 10-year-old Mohammed Nazar who was being fed by his mother as his hands were bandaged.

On new year's day Nazar had lit a firecracker which exploded before it left his hands. Dr. P.H.D. Silva said he was hopeful that Nazar will be able to use his hands as in a week's time. Amongh ohter casualties who have been treated were two boys aged six and eight whose injuries had been of a more serious nature. While one had his whole face burnt the other had injuries on his hands. Dr. Silva said that there had been another child who had been treated on Christmas day. The doctor said that his injury could bring about a permanent disability.

Another vote for Thondaman

By Shelani de Silva
Government will move a supplementary vote in parliament on Thursday to obtain the proposed allocation for Minister Thondaman's Livestock Ministry, the vote of which was defeated during the budget debate.

Livestock and Estate Infrastructure Deputy Minister Jagath Pushpakumara said that there was no problem in getting the money for the ministry. "However, the procedure was to get the money required through the supplementary vote," he said. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said the Government had two options to allocate the money. It could be taken from the Contingency Fund to be replaced later or through a supplementary vote. 

Mr. Thondaman is on a private visit to New Delhi amidst speculation on why he has handed over some of his functions to his grandson and CWC general secretary Arumugam Thondaman.

End extremism Jaffna Bishop

In a significant development which could mark a turning point, the influential Bishop of Jaffna has appealed to the LTTE to take into account the effects of their 'extremist' actions on the common man, give up the notion that war is the only path to liberate and seek peace through dialogue in a spirit of accommodation.

In a new year message published in the Jaffna daily 'Uthayan' on Friday, Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam said the LTTE leader's radio broadcast on the occasion of Heroes Day had held out hopes of talks to end the war. The people, the bishop said, were being subjugated and destroyed because of the war and he appealed to the LTTE to enter into a dialogue to bring an end to the ethnic conflict in a spirit of accommodation. 

"You should consider the sufferings inflicted on the people by your extremist actions in the course of your struggle."

The Bishop told the LTTE with unusual candour, "you must take into account the human angle."

Bishop Savundranayagam asked the government to soft pedal the concept of waging 'war for peace' and stop paying only lip service to the goal of attaining peace. The government should set aside its particular likes and dislikes and take bold steps towards bringing a lasting peace, he said.

He appealed to the opposition UNP to look at the ethnic question and the war from a non-partisan angle in the interest of the welfare of the people. The Bishop urged the opposition to sincerely co-operate with efforts to find a solution. 

Addressing the Tamil parties, Bishop Savundranayagam appealed to them for unity as unity was essential for survival. They should set aside their prejudices and mutual animosities and work for the common good of the Tamil people, he said. 

Mystery vehicles in Wayamba

Some of the candidates contesting the upcoming Wayamba elections are alleged to be using vehicles without number plates.

The matter was raised at last Wednesday's all-party meeting with the Commissioner of Elections but the DIG in charge did not give a clear answer, a party official said. 

Meanwhile the People's Action for Free and Fair Elections, an independent body observing the elections, has reported 60 complaints so far.

Twenty four of the complaints were against the PA and seven against the UNP, PAFFREL director Kingsley Rodrigo said.

He said PA's chief ministerial candidate S. B Navinna has been accused of putting up some 3,000 posters with his name and number saying 'deputy minister today, chief minister tomorrow.'

"Election rules clearly state that posters to this effect could be put up only two days before a public meeting and not otherwise," Mr. Rodrigo said.

At last week's meeting elections chief Dayananda Dissanayaka has agreed to provide additional protection to ballot boxes the night before the elections and to deploy six policemen each to protect the ballot boxes.

Meanwhile 20,407 postal votes applications have been received, but only 15,931 were found to be valid, an offical said.

As the polls campaign moved into full gear, the UNP is continuing to accuse the PA of unleashing violence, but government leaders charge that the UNP is blowing up minor incidents to project a wrong picture to the country and the world.

Patrick slams the pact

By Chamintha Thilakarathna
Euphoria over last week's free trade agreement between India and Sri Lanka was shattered when Sri Lanka's main trade chamber yesterday expressed serious concern that the deal might swallow up local industries.

Patrick Amarasinghe, industrialist and president of the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was outspoken in his criticism while other industrialists said Sri Lanka's management technique and productivity levels must improve tremendously if it hoped to compete freely well-established Indian firms. 

'The Indian market would swallow the Sri Lankan market forcing the industrialist to suffer," Mr. Amarasinghe said .

'The Government should have consulted industrialists before going ahead with such an agreement or at least made known its plans," he told 'The Sunday Times'. "Indian goods are cheaper and cost of production is lower. We are not geared to the market. We can't compete with them on many items," he said.

Meanwhile South Asian diplomats also have expressed concern about Sri Lanka's decision to enter into a bilateral free trade agreement with India just five months after President Kumaratunga took over as Chairman of SAARC. They pointed out that at the South Asian summit last July member states agreed to work towards a South Asian Free Trade Area. 

A Foreign Ministry official told The Sunday Times the Indo-Lanka free trade agreement signed by President Kumaratunga and Indian Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee was better than SAFTA.

He said that according to SAFTA Sri Lanka would not be able to compete with the Indian market and would be in a difficult situation. He said that in contrast this agreement allowed Sri Lanka to adjust its economy to meet the market and was more flexible. 

According to SAFTA the country would have to reach the required economic standards by 2001 whereas the Indo-Lanka deal would give time till 2007 to adjust the economy. 

The so-called Sri Lankan negative list meaning items not covered by the deal would be mainly agricultural products. 

The Indian 'Negative List' would comprises about 400 items, including garments, petro chemicals, alcoholic spirits, coconut and coconut oil.

There will be zero duty on 1000 Indian items and 300 Sri Lankan items when the agreement comes into force.

Mano Selvanathan, Chairman Indo-Sri Lanka Business Council said: "I think it is good and there is a lot of potential of exporting to the Indian market. It will attract a lot of overseas industries that can cater to the Indian market, and we should monitor the value addition. Sri Lanka should get prepared to open up to a market of a billion people, and the government should help the people with this."

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