Ranil assures support to fight external threats

The Emergency which was lifted on Thursday has a 58-year history in the country. The Emergency came into operation for the first time on August 12, 1953. It was declared as a measure to bring under control the situation triggered by an opposition-called island-wide Hartal to protest against an increase in the price of rice and several other measures that hit the poor masses in the country.

Thereafter, successive governments imposed the Emergency to manage events like communal riots, general strikes and other incidents that posed a threat to the law and order situation. However, as a matter of course, the Emergency was lifted soon after the situation returned to normal. The Emergency which has just ended was clamped on August 12, 2005 following the assassination of former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

All welcome end of Emergency
President Mahinda Rajapaksa who attended Parliament on Thursday announced the lifting of the Emergency during a special statement he made in the House. In fact, the government had decided to remove the Emergency several weeks ago. Meanwhile, terror caused by a lurking mysterious `grease devil’ struck the people in several parts of the country. And the Opposition charged that the government had created `a grease devil’ to use it as an excuse to extend the Emergency. The government rejected this charge.
Lifting of the Emergency has come in for praise by all sections that uphold democratic freedoms. Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who rose to his feet following President Rajapaksa’s special statement in Parliament, thanked the latter for the welcome move. He also assured that the opposition would extend its support to the government to combat possible external threats and pressures. The US State Department also has issued a statement hailing the lifting of the Emergency.

Battle for Colombo MC
The battle for the Colombo MC has begun with the closing of nominations. The UPFA, UNP, JVP, Democratic People’s Front and several other political groupings and 29 independent groups are now in the fray. Given the large number of parties in the fray, the ballot paper for the Colombo MC is likely to be about three feet long, Elections Department sources said.
The ruling UPFA is fielding former Cabinet Minister Milinda Moragoda as its Colombo mayoral candidate. Last week President Rajapaksa who met Milinda Moragoda had invited him to contest the Colombo MC as the UPFA’s mayoral candidate. Moragoda, who asked for two days to make his decision, had later given his consent after consulting a number of bhikkhus, other religious leaders, civil society leaders and others close to him who had asked him to take up the challenge to usher in a clean administration in Colombo. Moragoda who called on the President to express his consent had dissolved the Lanka Jatika Sangamaya which he led and obtained the SLFP membership.

Maharoof joins SLFP
Meanwhile, former UNP Minister and Parliamentarian Mohamed Maharoof who failed to get nomination as the UNP mayoral candidate called on President Rajapaksa with Milinda Moragoda and obtained the SLFP membership. Maharoof is now contesting on the UPFA list as the Deputy Mayoral nominee. The President who had breakfast with Maharoof at Temple Trees had regretted the poor treatment the latter received from the UNP. “The UNP has not realised your value,” the President had told Maharoof.
Several former Colombo MC Members from the SLFP have failed to receive nominations for the upcoming election. Ms. Sunethra Wickramasinghe, Ariyaratne Wedage and Milton Liyanage are among them.
The SLMC, a partner of the ruling coalition is contesting for the Colombo MC on their own under the `Tree’ symbol. Their Mayoral nominee is Shafik Rajabdeen, a former MP. Mano Ganesan is contesting as the mayoral candidate of the Democratic People’s Front. The JVP has nominated attorney-at-law Sunil Watagala as their mayoral candidate.

Former Colombo MC Members from the `Eye Spectacles’ independent group are contesting this election from several independent groups. Their applications for nomination from the UPFA and the UNP had been rejected. Mohamed Imitiaz who became the city Mayor having led the `Eye Spectacles’ independent group that won at the last election, is now serving as a driver at Sri Lankan embassy in Seoul.
The UNP’s Nomination Board for picking candidates for the Colombo MC .comprised party leader Ranil Wickrmesinghe, Deputy leaders Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya, General Secretary Tissa Attanayake, Chairman Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, John Amaratunga, Joseph Michael Perera, Kabir Hashim, D.M. Swaminathan, Ravi Karunanayake and Amara Piyaseeli Ratnayake. There were five mayoral aspirants: A.J.M. Muzammil, Mohamed Maharoof, Karunasena Kodituwakku, Y.P.Ram and Shahul Hameed. The Board had interviewed the five candidates separately. The Board had inquired from each aspirant the priorities on his agenda in the event of being elected as Mayor. The Board had also gone through the number of votes polled by each Mayoral aspirant at previous elections.
The Board found it difficult to arrive at unanimity on any particular candidate; Ranil Wickremesinghe had suggested that the candidate be picked by a secret ballot. Muzammil had polled the highest number of votes at the secret ballot that followed and the Board decided to nominate him as the party’s mayoral candidate.

Sajith group declares ceasefire
Meanwhile, Sajith group has decided to suspend all activity related to ousting the party leader and not to say anything about the party crisis in public either. Sajith Premadasa had told media that they were rising above differences to make a united effort to bring victory to the party at the upcoming polls. However, several Sajith loyalists have been overlooked in selecting candidates for the Colombo MC and Matara UC. Former Colombo MC Members Vijitha Kadiragonna and Mahendra Silva of Colombo North are among those who have been overlooked. Meanwhile, Buddhika Pathirana says that Mangala Samaraweera, a new comer to the UNP who had his say in the selection of candidates for the Matara UC had picked his own loyalists ignoring senior UNPers there. Angered by `discriminatory action’ by Samaraweera, UNP seniors in Matara have entered the fray there as an independent group.

Truce not reciprocated
Sajith Premadasa charges that the party leadership continues to take it out on his loyalists even after his group had decided to rise above differences to make a united effort to win the upcoming elections. The group is meeting again shortly to discuss how to contend with the obstinate attitude of the leadership.

Milinda goes into action
UPFA’s Colombo mayoral candidate Milinda Moragoda had set in motion his propaganda mill soon after submitting his nominations. The theme of his campaign according to a Press advertisement he has run is: “Let us restore the honour and prestige of the residents of Colombo and their Municipal Council……. Let us make Colombo a model city.”
It appears that Moragoda’s propaganda campaign is targeted at the Lower and Upper Middle Class in the city who subscribe to the idea of turning Colombo into a clean and beautiful city.
UNP mayoral candidate AJ.M.Muzammil says that a political leader with an empathic understanding of the hardships and suffering of the people living in shanties in the city should become the Mayor. It appears that the UNP wants to cash in on the disenchantment of shanty dwellers over the government plans to demolish their shanties under a resettlement programme. Meanwhile, according to UPFA sources, President Rajapaksa has decided to personally monitor the UPFA election campaign in Colombo.

Sajith group beats a retreat
The Sajith group suffered a setback in their struggle to oust the leader when Ranil Wickremesinghe consolidated his leadership position taking cover under the party Constitution at the meeting of the Working Committee held on August 17. Karu Jayasuriya who was proposed for the leadership by the Sajith group is maintaining a low profile these days. He avoids giving interviews to media, but speaks to the Press while being careful not to make any comment relating to the party’s leadership crisis or any other controversial issue given the need to safeguard the party unity when the local government elections are close at hand say his party associates. Some members say Karu is a player who wants to play for both teams in the party and he betrayed this intention when he said that he was willing to lead the party if that was the wish of the majority. He came in for severe flak from the Ranil group and meanwhile, the Sajith group too has lost their faith in him, say some party insiders. Given this situation, Karu has decided to lie low for sometime, they say.

No confidence against PC opposition leaders
Sajith group has taken action to move no confidence motions against the UNP’s PC opposition leaders who held a Press briefing to express their solidarity with Ranil Wickremesinghe at the height of the crisis over the party leadership. No confidence motion against the opposition leader in the North Central Provincial Council Kasturi Anuradhanayake has already been submitted. No confidence against opposition leader of the Western PC Manju Sri Arangala is also on the way.

`Grease devil’ takes centre-stage
Tension and unrest gripped a number of areas in the country like Batticaloa, Kattankudy, Ampara Kinniya, Jaffna, Puttalam, Kalpitiya Hatton and Haputale during the last weeks with people running amok struck by a fear of a mysterious `grease devil’. There were also news reports about instances where some night prowlers with bodies smeared with grease had molested women who happened to be at home all alone. The situation took a turn for the worse, when the horror-struck villagers organised themselves as vigilante groups, began attacking suspected `grease devils’.

Lynch mobs on rampage
The first victims of the vigilantes on the rampage were two hawkers of reed mats in Haputale. Strangers to the area, the two mat hawkers were set upon by the estate worker-vigilantes armed with clubs and knives. The victims had already succumbed to injuries by the time it came to light that they were innocent people eking out a living by selling mats to villagers. Several other people in the area too, mistaken for `grease devils’, had been beaten up by the vigilantes.
Meanwhile, reports said that two `grease devil’ suspects in Kinniya had run into the Navy camp there to escape from the wrath of the pursuing vigilantes. And the vigilantes who had followed the two suspects to the Navy camp had demanded the Navy personnel to hand over the two suspects to them. The lynch mob had reportedly even assaulted some Navy personnel when the latter refused to hand over the two suspects. However, Police or the government authorities did not appear to have taken serious notice of the developing situation.
People in Puttalam and Kalpitiya had last Sunday attacked some Policemen and damaged Police vehicles following a grease devil-related incident. A Policeman on duty in Puttalam town had been beaten to death when he tried to rescue a grease devil suspect from a lynch mob.

Defence Secretary intervenes
The killing of the Policeman in Puttalam opened the eyes of the Defence authorities to the grave situation fast getting out of control. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had decided to hold a discussion with representatives of some Muslim organisations. Accordingly his legal consultant Ali Sabri immediately contacted President, Sri Lanka Muslim Council N.M. Ameen. Following arrangements made through Ameen, a delegation from the Sri Lanka Muslim Council and Jammiyathul Ulama Association of Muslim theologians called at the Defence Ministry for talks.
The nine-member Muslim delegation who held talks with the Defence Secretary included Ameen and President of the Jammiyathul Ulama Association M.M.M. Mubarak. During the discussion that lasted for about one and half hours, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa rejected the charge that the members of the security forces were involved in the perverted attacks on women in the night.

The Muslim delegation at this meeting handed over a letter to the Defence Secretary maintaining that the security forces had a link with the grease devil phenomenon. They also cited nine instances to drive home their point. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa promised to look into the cases brought to his notice. He also requested the Muslim delegates to visit the troubled areas in the East and allay the unfounded fears of the people to bring the situation to back to normal. The delegates pointed out that the Moulavis in charge of mosques in the East could carry out the proposed mission more effectively and they be summoned for a conference in Colombo.

Mosque heads air-lifted to Colombo
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who readily accepted this suggestion and asked the Director of the Department of Muslim Affairs to invite the mosque heads in Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Ampara and Puttalam districts to a conference at the Defence Ministry at 4 pm the following day (Tuesday). Accordingly, about 90 Muslim clerics were air-lifted to Colombo by Air Force planes and helicopters. Representatives of the Jamiyyathul Ulama Association and Sri Lanka Muslim Council, Commander of the three forces, the IGP and some Police top brass too had been invited to the conference.

N.M. Ameen explained the purpose of the conference. Presently, one Muslim cleric from each district was invited to make oral representations at the conference. The clergymen pointed out that so far Police and the army has failed to nab any of the `grease devils’. Some of them said that people have failed to catch the `grease devil’ suspects because they beat those in hot pursuit by running into the camps of the security forces.
The head of the Kattankudy mosque created a mild stir when he asked why a government which could defeat the LTTE, which reigned supreme in North East for 30 years, is unable to catch the `grease devils’. Another representative said that following an alleged incident where some people had thrown missiles at an army camp in Kattankudy area, some soldiers set fire to several shops in Kattankudy town. The Defence Secretary promised to probe the incident and do justice to those who were affected.

“Government needs no excuse...”
Addressing the participants Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said: “Some try to make out that the government is behind the `grease devil’-related-incidents. Some say that the government has authored this situation to use it as an excuse for extending the Emergency. There is no need for the government to resort to this type of strategies to extend the Emergency, because the government commands a two thirds majority in Parliament to continue the Emergency.

There are some people who say that the government is using `grease devils’ in a bid to unearth the historic sword used by King Dutugemunu from the place of its concealment for the President to use it as a prerogative to remain in perpetual power. There is no historical evidence that King Dutugemunu had stayed in areas like Batticaloa, Potuvil and Kinniya.”
President, Sri Lanka Muslim Council Ameen said that these days, night prayer sessions are being held in mosques to mark the Ramadan. However, devotees keep away from these night prayers for fear of the `grease devils’. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that he was not aware of such a situation and promised to provide Police security to mosques when night prayer sessions are on.
The Defence Secretary entertained the delegates to an `Ifthar’ dinner at the conclusion of this conference which was held in a very cordial atmosphere. Meanwhile, time had come for thee delegates to end the day’s fast.

Muslim residents’ donation
The Muslim delegates from Puttalam district said that the Muslims in the area had collected Rs.500, 000 to hand over to the widow of Policeman Navaratne Bandara who was killed in the `grease devil’-related incident in Puttalam as a gesture of goodwill. They requested IGP N.K.Ilangakoon to present the money to Ms. Bandara on their behalf; The IGP told the delegates that he would arrange for DIG Pujitha Jayasundara to make the presentation of the donation of the Muslim people to the widow.