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17th October 1999

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Nurses in public hospitals have shed their uniforms and
are working in casual outfits such as sarees. This is part of
a protest relating to their demand for a change in the uniform.
The nurses say attendants and labourers also wear white
or blue uniforms similar to nurses and there needs to be a
change to prevent problems and confusion.
Pic by Gemunu Wellage.

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Polls bring price cuts

By Faraza Farook

In what appears to be a hurried preparation for presidential elections, the government is reducing flour and sugar prices from midnight today and providing other relief measures, especially to farmers.

The price of flour is being reduced by one rupee a kilo and sugar by 50 cents, while relief measures to farmers will include rescheduling of loans.

The reduction of the prices came as the People's Alliance continued what is seen as an unofficial election campaign with big rallies in Colombo and major cities the next being scheduled for next Friday in Anuradhapura.

An official of the Food Commissioners Department said the flour and sugar prices had been reduced on a directive from the Trade Ministry, but no reason was given.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet on Wednesday decided to waive off the interest of small scale potato farmers who had obtained loans from state banks and also reschedule bank loans of these farmers.

This is likely to cost the government more than Rs. 140 million.

The government is also considering various other relief measures, including building material at discounted rates for construction of houses to farmers, officials said.

More price reductions and other relief measures are expected in the budget for year 2000 to be presented on November 2.

The ruling People's Alliance' General Secretary and Minister D. M. Jayaratne told The Sunday Times last night that no date had yet been decided on for elections but People's Alliance MPs and organisers had been told to push full steam ahead with development projects in their electorates.

Heavy casualties in Watershed battle

Government troops and LTTE rebels suffered heavy casualties in a major battle around the Mankulam area, leaving more than 180 dead and hundreds wounded from both sides in a fresh flare-up of clashes.

Military officials claimed that more than 155 rebels and at least 37 soldiers and one officer were killed in the fighting which began on Thursday morning and lasted until Friday.

The fighting broke out after troops made an attempt to advance from the forward defence lines.

An Army spokesman said that 32 bodies of LTTE cadres recovered were handed over to the LTTE representatives through the ICRC.

(See Situation Report)

CBK trying to attract me-Ranil

Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would take his own time in responding to the President's letter earlier this week calling on him to make a clear concrete decision on the proposals to be discussed with the LTTE.

Mr. Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times that he would reply President Kumaratunga's eight page letter "some time" next week. But it appeared that she was 'trying to attract some attention from me'.

He said that he would 'take his time' in replying what he saw as part of an election strategy in attacking him on a personal level.

Mr. Wickremesinghe dismissed the President's remarks towards the end of her letter where she had stated that the UNP had put her husband Vijaya Kumaratunga in jail "for no fault of his, other than, perhaps, his formidable popularity", and alleged that Mr. Wickremesinghe as Education Minister "gave strict orders" to his officials to deny permission to her son entering Royal College or any government college despite his holding all qualifications for such admission.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said that in the first instance it was he who intervened to have Vijaya Kumaratunga released from jail following the intervention of a third party and after speaking to President J.R. Jayewardene and as for Ms. Kumaratunga's son's entrance to Royal College "no instructions of whatever kind were given to my officials".

He said that Vijaya Kumaratunga came to see him at that time and wanted their son put at least to D.S. Senanayake Vidyalaya if not Royal College but he (Mr. Wickremesinghe) had explained to him about Education Department regulations and the possibility of fundamental rights cases instituted by parents if these regulations were flouted.

Pakistan coup

UNP speaks out; Kadir cautious

By Our Diplomatic Editor

Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was cautious about recent developments in Pakistan saying the Government was "watching events closely" but Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was more emphatic saying the suspension of a constitution of a democratic country is "a serious act".

The comments followed developments in Pakistan following Tuesday night's bloodless coup d'etat by the Army overthrowing the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sheriff and suspended the country's constitution.

Mr. Kadirgamar in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times (please see page 8) said that the government had hoped that parliamentary democracy had taken root in Pakistan when Prime Minister Nawaz Sheriff had won elections with a two-third majority.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Times "suspending the constitution of a democratic country is a serious act. It is a setback for democracy".

"Pakistan is one of our closest friends, and we wish they can find a way out of this crisis. I only hope that this idea of suspending the constitution did not emanate after listening to our President's speeches", he said.

Meanwhile, world leaders and Pakistan newspapers (which have not been subjected so far to any military censorship) have been critical of the military coup which has only been given a veneer of respectability only because of the unpopularity of the corruption riddled undemocratic governance of Sharif's administration.

US President Bill Clinton wanted a restoration of civilian government but pointedly omitted referring to replacing Sharif. The people of Pakistan have to elect their leader - not us, he said.

The new ruler, General Parvez Musharraf, a batch-mate of Sri Lanka's Army Commander Gen. Srilal Weerasooriya at the Pakistan Staff College, was in Sri Lanka for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Sri Lanka Army when Sharif decided to Continued from page 1

sack him and have him arrested on arrival.

Sharif is reported to have received (the influential Inter-Service Intelligence) reports that Gen. Musharraf and his men were plotting a take-over of the government following serious acrimony in the aftermath of the Kargil debacle.

Gen. Musharraf and the Army had carefully planned the Kargil operation of infiltrating Kashmir, but Sharif capitulated following US pressure to withdraw.

But reports indicate that Gen. Musharraf had not decided to execute the coup just then. In Colombo, the whisky drinking general had a round of golf at the Royal Colombo Golf Club and a two hour round of talks with Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte. He also visited Kandy.

A scheduled meeting with Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had to be cancelled as the minister had to accompany the President on a sudden-decision visit to the Maldives.

Sharif had however not wanted to dismiss Gen. Musharraf during his visit to Sri Lanka on two counts; one that it would have insulted Sri Lanka, and, two, that the general would then not have been a representative of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

According to diplomatic sources it was the fact that General Musharraf was carrying with him his mobile telephone that saved the day for him.

He had received the news of his dismissal while being airborne on a regular PIA commercial flight, and was able to give orders from his passenger seat. When the pilot had informed him that the Pakistani authorities had refused landing permission for the flight, Gen. Musharraf had insisted that the pilots force land disregarding authorisation from the Control Tower.

In Colombo, the general is reported to have pledged Pakistan's continuing assistance to the Sri Lanka Armed Forces in their battle with separatist guerillas. Pakistan is one of Sri Lanka's main allies in its battle against the LTTE providing unlimited support in both weapons and training.

VOA dump: out with it

By Chris Kamalendran

The private company which was involved in dumping the suspected toxic waste matter from the Voice of America (VOA) station at Iranawila has been directed by the North Western Provincial Council to remove the waste matter immediately.

"We have told the company to remove the waste matter from the land near a temple, whether it is toxic or not," NWP Environmental Authority Director Saman Senanayake said.

He said the Marconi company had earlier asked the provincial council to provide an area to dump the waste matter, but the request was turned down.

Mr. Senanayake said the dump site had been had been declared out of bounds until tests were conducted on the content of the waste material.

He said following the exposure in The Sunday Times last week, the Marconi company was contacted and clarification sought as to how and why it dumped the waste without approval from the provincial authorities.

Mr. Senanayake said that if toxic material was found in the waste, the company would be prosecuted and ordered to take the material out of the country. (See related story in the Plus section)


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