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  Nation 2  


 

Reform only way forward

Says Bahrain opposition head

MANAMA (AFP) – The only way forward for Bahrain is through political reform rather than oppression of its Shiites and a heavy-handed crackdown, the head of its main Shiite opposition bloc said in an interview.
The opposition pulled its 18 MPs out of parliament – two of whom have been detained – in protest at violence against demonstrators.
Sheikh Ali Salman, who heads Al-Wefaq, the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s largest Shiite political group, said his movement was also not planning to take part in upcoming by-elections.
A “counter-revolution” has raised fears among Sunnis of the Shiite-led protest movement, the white-turbaned cleric said, while insisting on a civic state for both Muslim communities and not Iran-style clerical rule.
The government is now “definitely demanded to introduce serious reforms. What is also definite is that stability will not come through oppression,” said Salman, ahead of the lifting of emergency laws enforced in mid-March.
The Wefaq leader said “security (forces) will not bring the solution ... Without political reform, this bad situation will continue and there will not be real stability.”
If the authorities, widely criticised by rights groups for their heavy-handed clampdown on Shiites, continue with the same policies after the June 1 lifting of emergency law, the crisis will remain unchanged, he said.
“If the same mentality that runs the country now continues in the coming days... this means that Bahrain will remain ‘ill,’” he said, insisting on a political solution.
“You have frightened the people with tanks, so you have to keep tanks around. This would be far from normal,” he said, warning that protesters were already returning to the streets in their villages.
The cleric led the political front of month-long protests on the streets that erupted in mid-February led by Shiite youth inspired by uprisings that toppled long-time strongmen in Tunisia and Egypt.
Banking on the unprecedented mass protest camped out at Manama’s Pearl roundabout, before it was raided in mid-March, Salman’s Wefaq and six other opposition groups raised the stakes, demanding a “real” constitutional monarchy.
Some demonstrators from the disenfranchised Shiite community called for the fall of the Al-Khalifa dynasty, sending shivers across the Sunni-ruled Arab monarchies of the Gulf wary of neighbouring Shiite Iran’s influence.
“We said: The people want to reform the regime. We did not raise the slogan of toppling the regime,” said Salman. “We conducted a survey among demonstrators, and the majority said they wanted a constitutional monarchy.”

 
Nepal’s leaders battle to avert fresh crisis

KATHMANDU (AFP) – Nepal’s ruling parties were to hold 11th-hour talks on Saturday to try to avert a fresh political crisis, with hours to go before parliament’s term expires.
Nepal’s parliament, or Constituent Assembly, was elected in 2008 with a two-year mandate to fulfil the terms of the peace agreement that followed a long civil war and write a new constitution for the world’s youngest republic.
It has been unable to complete either task, despite being given an extra 12 months in 2010, and unless a fresh extension can be agreed its term will expire at midnight (1815 GMT) Saturday, leaving the country in legal limbo.
The widespread hope that followed the end of the war in 2006 and the abolition of Nepal’s unpopular monarchy two years later has been replaced by a growing sense of anger and frustration in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Political instability
Nepal was without a government for seven months before the current prime minister was elected in February – has stifled economic growth, forcing many Nepalese to seek work overseas.
This time the coalition government, which includes the leftist UML (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Maoist parties, has proposed a bill to give the assembly more time, but does not yet have the needed two-thirds parliamentary majority.
It requires the support of the main opposition party, the centrist Nepali Congress (NC), which has said it will only vote for an extension under certain conditions.
The NC is demanding that the Maoists, who fought a 10-year war against the state before laying down their arms in 2006 and becoming a legitimate political party, hand over weapons stored in military camps to the government.
“We haven’t yet been able to reach an agreement on the issues such as surrendering the arms to the government,” Ram Sharan Mahat, a senior NC party leader, told AFP. “I’m not optimistic about a positive outcome.”
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks in protest against the slow pace of progress since the 2008 elections and politicians’ failure to complete the constitution. On Friday, protesters set fire to cars in Kathmandu as they tried to enforce a shutdown of the capital, and hundreds of riot police were deployed around the city ahead of Saturday’s vote.
Analysts predicted the knife-edge negotiations would continue well into Saturday, and said it remained unclear what would happen if no agreement could be reached.
The speaker of the house, Subas Chandra Nemwang, said the parties had no choice but to agree.
“They have time and again said that they are committed to the peace process and the constitution,” he told AFP. “I hope they will put aside their differences and reach agreement on those two vital issues.”

 
Japanese train derails, injuring 39

TOKYO (AFP) – An express train in Japan derailed and caught fire inside a tunnel overnight, injuring 39 passengers, railway officials said Saturday.
The injured were taken for hospital treatment though no-one was seriously hurt, officials said.
The train, carrying 240 passengers, made an emergency stop inside a 685-metre (750-yard) tunnel on the northern Hokkaido island at around 10:00 pm (0100 GMT) on Friday after its driver noticed smoke emerging from the train.
The passengers escaped but the fire continued to burn until early Saturday morning, destroying the six-carriage train.
Officials and emergency workers found marks on the track and said one of the carriages had apparently derailed just before entering the tunnel.
The government ordered the railway company, JR Hokkaido, to carry out a thorough investigation. Naotoshi Nakajima, president of JR Hokkaido, apologised for the accident.
“This serious accident caused injuries to so many of our passengers,” he told reporters.
“We are extremely sorry. We will investigate the cause and will draft prevention measures,” he said.

 
Iran sends advisers to Syria to help quell unrest

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Iran is sending trainers and advisers to Syria to help crush anti-government demonstrations threatening to topple Iran’s most important ally in the region, The Washington Post reported late Friday.
The influx of Iranian manpower was adding to a steady stream of aid from Tehran, the newspaper said, citing unnamed US officials.
That aid includes not only weapons and riot gear but also sophisticated surveillance equipment that is helping Syrian authorities track down opponents through their Facebook and accounts, the sources said.
Iranian-assisted computer surveillance is believed to have led to the arrests of hundreds of Syrians seized from their homes in recent weeks, the paper said.
According to one diplomat and US officials, the Iranian military trainers are being brought to Damascus to instruct Syrians in techniques Iran used against the nation’s “Green Movement”’ in 2009, the Post reported.
Officers from Iran’s notorious Quds Force have played a key role in Syria’s crackdown since at least mid-April, it said.
US sanctions imposed against the Quds Force in April had been intended as a warning to Iran to halt the practice, said the Post.
At least eight people were reported killed by security forces Friday as pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in cities and towns across the country after Muslim Friday prayers in defiance of a government crackdown.
The death toll by early evening was far lower than last Friday when at least 44 people were killed by security forces during similar protests.
Since the revolt in Syria erupted in mid-March, Friday protests have become a weekly ritual and are widely seen as a barometer of whether activists are able to maintain momentum despite the repression.

 
Report queries Haiti quake death toll, homeless

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Haitian officials reacted sceptically Friday to a draft US report that questioned both the death toll in last year’s earthquake and the numbers left homeless.
The draft report, based on a survey commissioned by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), argues that far fewer people died in the devastating 2010 quake than has been thought.
It also suggests that many of those still living in squalid tent cities did not lose their homes in the disaster.
The draft report, dated May 13 and which has yet to be released, draws its estimates from door-to-door surveys carried out by the agency over 29 days in January.
Challenging the commonly accepted death toll of 250,000 people, it proposes a far smaller figure.
“The number of fatalities that resulted from the earthquake is estimated at 46,190 to 84,961, approximately 2.2 percent of the population,” it says.
The report, a copy of which has been obtained by AFP, also questions official UN figures that around 680,000 people remain homeless.
It argues that only between 5 percent and 10 percent of that number moved into the street from crumbled homes.
The draft report said its own findings – and data from Haiti’s ministry of public works – suggested that the UN estimates were “improbable figures.”
There was no comment Friday from the office of President Michel Martelly.
But a government spokesman, who asked not to be named, expressed surprise, saying: “Honestly, I have never heard of these figures.
“The official figures remain the same. It’s surprising that we would talk about new figures now.”
And one government minister, who also spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said he found it “curious that the new figures had appeared more than a year after the catastrophe.
“The official numbers that I am aware of remain the same and that is between 250,000 and 300,000 dead,” the minister added.
US State Department Mark Toner, which oversees USAID, acknowledged they had commissioned the report from Washington-based firm LTL Strategies.
But he added: “The first draft of the report contained internal inconsistencies with its own findings.
“We are reviewing these inconsistencies with LTL Strategies to ensure information we release is accurate.”
In the months after the disaster, the USAID’s Foreign Disaster Assistance funded a multi-million project to assess the safety of nearly every earthquake-damaged home in Haiti.
The project was led by the Pan American Development Foundation, working with the well-known structural engineering firm, Miyamoto International and Haiti’s ministry of public works (MTPTC).
It moved across the island, identifying which homes it considered “totally unsafe” or “mostly unsafe.”
The follow-up study, commissioned by USAID and carried out in January, conducted more than 2,000 in-depth surveys across low-income neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince.
It found that 64 percent of houses designated as “totally unsafe” and more than 90 percent of those designated “mostly unsafe” had already been reoccupied.
Entitled “Building Assessments and Rubble Removal in Quake-Affected Neighbourhoods in Haiti,” the report could have major implications for the future of aid and reconstruction to the impoverished nation.
The United States, along with other international donors, has pumped millions of dollars into Haiti in a bid to help it get back on its feet after the quake levelled much of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

 
Egypt eases Gaza border crossing

Egypt has opened its border with Gaza, easing restrictions and allowing more Palestinians to cross. Women, children and men over 40 are now allowed to cross freely. Men aged between 18 and 40 will still require a permit, and trade is prohibited.
Egypt and Israel have blockaded the Gaza Strip since the militant Hamas movement took power there in 2007. Israel fears weapons will be imported into Gaza, but Egypt insists it will conduct thorough searches.
The BBC’s Jon Donnison, in Gaza, says the decision to ease the border controls is symbolically important. It is another sign that the new leadership in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, is shifting the dynamics of the Middle East.
Israel has criticised the border move, saying it raised security concerns.
But with elections coming up in Egypt, our correspondent says the change in policy is likely to be popular with a public sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Although the border will still be closed for trade, the opening of the Rafah crossing is expected to provide a major economic boost to Gaza.
Previously, only about 300 Palestinians were allowed out every day.
Gaza resident Ali Nahallah told the BBC the changes would be welcome.
“Of course this is our only entry point from Gaza to the external world,” he said.
“We feel that we live in a big jail in Gaza so now we feel a little bit more comfortable and life is easier now. My kids are willing to travel to see other places other than Gaza.” The latest move comes a month after Egypt pushed through a unity deal between the two main Palestinian factions - Fatah and Hamas - something Israel also opposed. Fatah runs the West Bank, while Hamas governs Gaza.
Analysts say that with elections looming in Egypt the new policy is likely be popular with a public largely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Egypt’s co-operation in blockading Gaza was one of President Mubarak’s most unpopular policies.
Egypt says the crossing will be open from 0900 to 2100 every day except Fridays and holidays. Last year, Israel eased restrictions on goods entering Gaza, but severe shortages in the territory remain.
In 2010, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the blockade was a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
Hundreds of smuggling tunnels run under the Egyptian border with Gaza.
(BBC News)

 

Joint approach more beneficial, Lankan-UAE ministers agree
Minister of Industry & Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen (right) paid a courtesy call on UAE Foreign Trade Minister, Lubna Bint Kalid Al Qasimi (left) at Abu Dhabi’s Ministry of Foreign Trade on May 23. Ms. Lubna Bint Kalid Al Qasimi, will visit Sri Lanka in the due course, says Minister Bathiudeen.
“Her visit will further consolidate our trade relations and will help in bringing new UAE business engagements to Sri Lanka,” the Minister added.
During the discussion, Minister Bathiudeen apprised the UAE minister of Sri Lanka’s new socio economic development trend and invited the UAE business community for renewed trade partnership with Sri Lanka to further enhance mutual trade benefits.
UAE-Sri Lanka trade turnover at present stands at US $ 548.4 million (2010) of which Sri Lankan exports to UAE amounts to US $ 246.2 million, making UAE one of the key trading partners in the Middle East. Given the ‘trading hub’ outlook of both economies, a joint approach to avail of global market opportunities is a more beneficial option, agreed both Ministers.

 
Nizam Ismail elected Dy Mayor of London Borough of Harrow

Sri Lankan born Councillor Nizam Ismail from Galle, was elected Deputy Mayor of the Harrow Council London at the annual council meeting of the council on May 10, 2011. Nizam, an old boy of St. Aloysius’ College, Galle was first elected a coucillor to the Harrow Council London in May 2002 to represent the Queensbury Ward. He held the position of the Chief Whip of the Harrow Labour Group. At present, he is the Chairman of the Traffic and Road Safety Advisory Panel, Treasurer of the Labour Group, Governor of a school and chairman of the Harrow Muslim Council, Chairman and Trustee of Overseas Sri Lankan Muslim Educationa Trust (OSMET).
Nizam is very much involved in serving the community. By profession he was an engineer serving British Telecom and went on to serve the Ministry of Defence where he received a commendation by the Air Vice Marshall A. J. C. Bagnali CB OBE RAF for the services rendered to MOD London.
He lives with his wife Zahafaran, daughter of the late A. I. H. A. Wahab who was a diplomat and former Mayor of Galle. Their daughter Dr. Ferina Deen is a dermatologist and son Imran is an executive in a reputed merchant bank in London.
As a Sri Lankan, his achievements reflect the contry he was born and the community he represents.

 
CHINESE MUSICIANS WELCOME GL WITH SINHALA SONGS

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of the People’s Republic of China, in an exceptionally warm gesture, arranged for a group of accomplished Chinese musicians to offer a series of Sri Lankan songs, including ‘Danno Budunge’ and ‘Olu Pipeela’ in addition to Chinese traditional music, in welcoming Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister, Professor G. L. Peiris to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing for wide ranging bilateral discussions. The musicians with the two Foreign Ministers at the conclusion of the meeting

 
Ven. Dharmashoka Nayaka Thera leaves for Lebanon

Ven. Dr. Kanumuldeniye Sri Dharmashoka Nayaka Thera Viharadhipathi, Nawa Polonnaru Gal Viharaya, Dehiwala and the Director General of the international Vihara foundation left for Lebanon on Friday, May 20 from the Katunayaka International Airport to attend a series of Vesak programmes held to celebrate the “2,600 Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthiya”. After the Lebanon tour the Ven. Nayaka Thera is due to visit Himachal Pradesh in India. He also hopes to see the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

 

Sri Lanka showcased at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show is considered the most prestigious flower show in the world, graced by royalty and a large affluent clientele. It is a very important event in the UK’s social calendar and showcases the works of the world’s leading garden designers and horticultural enthusiasts. The show is being held at the Royal Hospital Gardens in London and this year’s event held from May 23 to 28 saw over 140,000 visiting the show.
Sri Lanka Tourism also took part at this event in partnership with the Orchid Society of Great Britain (OSGB) and Borneo Exotics (the sole exhibitor of Sri Lankan Origin).
The OSGB stand which celebrated its Diamond Jubilee at the Chelsea Flower Show exhibited Orchids from around the world set in a backdrop depicting the Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka. The centrepiece of the stand was the specially made replica of the ‘Sigiriya Lion Paws’ that attracted a lot of attention and interest.
Guests celebrating the OSGB/ Sri Lanka Tourism stand included TV Chef personalities Gary Rhodes and Rick Stein, TV Personalities Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen Diana Moran and Bill Bailey, actress Jane Asher and popular boy band JLS. The star of the show however was the effervescent award winning actress Dame Helen Mirren, who unveiled the new hybrid Nepenthes “Helen” named after her by Borneo Exotics, who grow their carnivorous plants in Sri Lanka.
The Acting High Commissioner in the UK, P. M. Amza and Mrs. Amza were the guests of honour at the Sri Lanka Stand.
The ‘Vote for the most popular Orchid and win a holiday to Sri Lanka’ competition jointly hosted by Sri Lanka Tourism, Sri Lankan Airlines and Elegant Travels has received a tremendous response from the crowd reinforcing the popularity of Sri Lanka as a holiday destination in the UK.
“We are delighted to be associated with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show which attracts a large affluent audience in the UK . This is in line with Sri Lanka Tourism’s strategy of promoting Sri Lanka as holiday destination that offers more than the beaches and attracting a more upmarket clientele,” said Sanjika Perera, Director Sri Lanka Tourism in the UK and Ireland.
 
At World Confab on Drowning Prevention in Vietnam

‘Kiss of life’ a must, says Dr. Godakumbura

The Second World Conference on Drowning Prevention was held in Danang, Vietnam a week ago. The Governor General and the Chief Justice of Australia were among the dignitaries, and there were 400 delegates from 50 countries including representatives from WHO, Unicef, Safe Kids, etc. Consultant surgeon, Dr. Wijaya Godakumbura, well known for his burn prevention activities, made a presentation on ‘Drowning in a developing country in Asia: Its nature and the support that such countries need’. He concluded his talk with the following words: “Those of us in Sri Lanka who are trying to prevent drowning would be grateful for any assistance that could be given to us”.
Drowning is a major global health hazard; it is referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because quite often the death occurs swiftly and silently. Over 90% of the deaths occur in developing countries where natural bodies of water like wells, rivers, lakes and the sea account for the majority of the deaths whereas in developed countries it is children drowning in swimming pools. What is tragic in these catastrophes is the fact that children and young adults are often the victims. Another feature is that, as in road accidents, alcohol plays a significant role in drowning among the youths in streams, lakes and the sea. Some die while trying to save a friend from drowning. People jump into the water on impulse without any knowledge of rescue techniques and one death then becomes two or three!
In Sri Lanka, children drowning in unprotected wells and pits is not uncommon. According to one newspaper, four children had fallen into unprotected wells in February 2010 and three of them had died! Over 35,000 people died in the tsunami of 2004 and 30 in the floods of last January and February. It is now universally accepted that ‘swimming training’ prevents many of the drowning deaths. Similarly if people have a basic knowledge on resuscitation techniques – this could be done through TV programmes – it could be very handy because ‘Kiss of Life’ administered by bystanders prior to the arrival of trained staff has saved many lives.
The above is done in a large scale even in some countries in our region like Bangladesh and Vietnam. Swimming training is being done in Sri Lanka, but this activity needs to be promoted along with demonstration of the ‘Kiss of Life’ on TV if we are to reduce the number drowning in Sri Lanka appreciably, which now stands around 1,100 per year or three every day.
 
Sri Lanka Tourism Awards - 2010 - Winners

1. General Awards
Tourism Legends - Mr. Ken Balendran
Tourism Pioneers - Mr. S. D. Saparamadu, Mr. Nihal Perera
Outstanding Contribution to Tourism - Mr. Palitha Gurusinghe
Tourism Entrepreneur of the year - Mr. Anura Lokuhetty, Mr. Sagara Palihawadena
Leisure Attraction of the year - Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Tourist Hotel ¬- Star Classified
Five Star (City) – Cinnamon Lakeside Colombo
Five Star (Resort) – Heritance – Ahungalle
Four Star – Heritance Tea Factory - N’ Eliya
Three Star – Palm Garden Village Hotel, A’pura
Tourist Hotels ¬Other
Unique Accommodation Boutique Hotel - Serene Pavilions-Wadduwa.
Unique Accommodation Boutique Villa - Paradise Road, The Villa, Bentota
Hosted Accommodation ¬- HOTEL
¬Ayurvea Tourism - Barbaryn Reef Hotel ¬Weligama
¬Adventure Sorts - Ella Adventure Park
Spa - Cinnamon Lake Side Azmaara Spa
¬Ecotourism - Heritance, Kandalama
Heritage - Galle Face Hotel
Culture - Cinnamon Grand - Nugagama
Agri Tourism - CIC Agri Holiday Resort - Higurakgoda
Tourist Hotels & Restaurant - The Gallery Cafe
Travel & Tourism Operator
Major Tour Operators (Inbound)- Walkers Tours
Transport Operator Emerging Market (Non Traditional) - Asian Adventures
Tour Operator FIT (Foreign Independent Travelers) - Asian Adventures
Destination Loyal Partner (Foreign) – Tour Operator - Sri Lanka Holidays
Airlines¬ - Contribution to Tourism
Airline of the year - SriLankan Airlines
Charter Airline Operation of the year - Walkers Tours / Condor
Mice Operation
Professional Exhibition Organizer - Lanka Exhibition & Conference Service (Pvt) Ltd.,
Conference / Exhibition Venue - Waters Edge - Battaramulla
Marketing Communication
Electronic Media Programme on Travel & Tourism - TV - Art-TV
Electronic Media Programme on Travel & Tourism - RADIO - Neth FM
Print Media Presentation on Travel & Tourism - Sri Lankan Pocket Guide Serendib Magazine
Foreign Journalist Promoting Sri Lanka Tourism - Ms. Sachiyo Iwasa
Best Tourism Website
Travel (eg: Destination - Walkers Tours
Hotel - Mt. Lavinia Hotel
Niche Product (eg: - Eco Team Adventure Sports, Spa, etc.,)
Provincial Toruism Project
Provincial Destination Development & Marketing - Wayamba Development Authority
Tourism Education & Training Effort - Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism & Hotel Management
Excellence in Service
National Tourist Guide Lecturer – Roshan Fernando
Chef of the Year - Wijesiri Delthalawage.

 
NATIONAL YOUTH CENTRE AT PADIYATALAWA, AMPARA

Youth Affairs and Skills Development Minister Dulles Alahapperuma, at the opening of the ‘Sri Lanka Youth’ national youth centre at Padiyatalawa, Ampara, being briefed on the Training Course for Apprentice electricians inaugurated under the auspices of the International Immigrant Centre. Parliamentarian Sriyani Wijewickrama and National Youth Service Council Chairman Lalith Piyum Perera are also in the picture

 
QAAC honoured

Sri Lanka has emerged to the maximum possible level in conducting systematic quality assurance activities in higher education compared to other developing nations. In recognition to the active work conducted by the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council (QAAC), the Director of the Council, Prof. Colin N. Peiris, has been appointed to Director Board in two leading QA Networks in the world, INQAAHE and APQN.
INQAAHE (International Network for Quality Assuance Agencies in Higher Education) is the world body in QA and it has over 200 members spanning six continents and 79 countries. The great majority of its members are QA Agencies that operate in many ways, and QAAC, Sri Lanka has a full membership.
Asia Pacific Quality Network (APQN) has also appointed Prof. Peiris to the Board for the third consecutive term. He has prepared a Manual on ‘Training Materials used in External Assessments’, used by APQN membership. APQN has 75 members from 30 countries in the Asia Pacific Region.

 
STRI-MELA OPENS IN GALLE

A two-day exhibition and a seminar titled `Stri-mela’, organized by Sri Lankeeya Kantha Handa’, an organization dedicated to empowering the women in the Economic and Social Sectors in the country, were held at Galle Town Hall recently. Here, Southern Province Governor Kumari Balasuriya lights a candle to open the exhibition on the occasion. Among others in the picture are former Minister Ferial Ashraff and Visakha Dharmadasa of the `Stri- mela’ Organizing Committee, Chairman, Southern PC C. Vitanachchi and PC members Wijepala Hettiarachchi and Sisira Kumararatne (Picture by Neminda Samarajeewa.)

 
President meets Jaffna youths

SLFP Chief Organiser for Jaffna District Angajan Ramanathan with his team of around 100 youths from Jaffna talking to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees