Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lanka: Violence, blunders mar Postal Voting

By Sandun A. Jayasekera - Postal voting for the April 8 general election ended yesterday against the backdrop of election monitoring groups reporting several incidents of violence from around the country and of mistakes and blunders by elections officers.

Peoples Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said its elections monitors had reported serious lapses by election officials from many parts of the country such as instances of election officials failing to report on time, failing to provide necessary documents and equipment such as ledgers and seals to facilitate postal voting.

For instance voting could not be held at the Wilgamuwa education office on Thursday as the Returning Officers failed to turn up. Mr. Hettiarachchi said his organization had deployed about 1,000 monitors mainly at police stations, SLTB depots and hospitals to monitor the two-day postal voting and by yesterday PAFFREL had received 142 complaints of election violence.

Campaign for Free and Fair Election (CaFFE) spokesman Keerthi Tennekoon said postal voting at Bandarawela, Kurunegala, Gampaha and Matale had been disrupted in varying proportions.

“This was due to the inefficiency of elections officials,” he said adding that some 1,250 observers were deployed island wide to monitor the postal voting held on Thursday and Friday.

Mr. Tennekoon said an escalation of election violence had been reported from Matale, Kurunegala, Dambulla, Ampara, Ratnapura, Galle, Matara and Polonnaruwa during the past few days.

“For the first time, the elections commissioner has allowed us to observe the counting and the declaration of results,” he added.

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) in a media communiqué said it was deeply concerned by reports alleging that attempts had been made to disenfranchise postal voters by officials in their capacity as certifying officers.

CMEV said some 235 monitors deployed by it had observed election malpractice by election officials and political partiy agents at Sabaragamuwa, Central, Uva, Western and Eastern provinces.

Meanwhile an Elections Secretariat source said nearly 96 per cent of the 415,432 eligible voters had cast their votes by last afternoon.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lankan Muslim convert accused of being 'anti-state'

A Sri Lankan woman who converted from Buddhism to Islam has been arrested by the authorities on suspicion of anti-state activities.

The woman, who is resident in the Gulf state of Bahrain, had recently written two books about her conversion.

They were written in Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka's ethnic majority, who are mostly Buddhists.

She was on holiday in Sri Lanka when she was detained and is now being held in a police station.

The national police spokesman told the BBC he believed there were allegations that she was involved in anti-government or anti-state activities.

He did not know the details but remarked that although her name was Sinhalese, she was acting and wearing clothes in the manner of a Muslim woman.

Unconfirmed reports say that family members have tried to send lawyers but they have not been able to take the case to court - and that she has been detained under emergency laws.

The police spokesman told the BBC's Sinhala service that he did not have enough details to comment on the allegations. The police at the local police station where she is held have refused to comment on the case.

Books published

A report in the Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News named her as Sarah Malanie Perera and said she had lived in the Gulf state since the mid-80s.

But it said she converted to Islam in 1999 and that her parents and sisters also made the conversion.

The newspaper quoted her sister, also a Bahrain resident, as saying she was apprehended while trying to send books out of Sri Lanka through freight. A member of staff was linked to a Buddhist nationalist party and reported the book to police.

A member of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka said that Ms Perera had no pre-existing connection with Sri Lankan Muslims and the local community had nothing to do with the book over whose contents she was arrested.

He said she had been under arrest since Monday and had not yet been produced in court.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that Buddhist nationalism is currently an influential force in Sri Lanka and the party in question is part of the government coalition.

Sri Lankan Muslims are regarded as the third ethnic group in Sri Lanka occupy a respected and prominent position in society. But accounts of conversions from Buddhism to Islam are rare.

© BBC News

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lanka: Former Chief Justice warns govt. of impending doom

By Athula Bandara - “Sri Lanka would soon end being another Myanmar if the prevailing situation in the country was allowed to go on unchecked.”

Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva said this while addressing a group of scholars and professionals at the Anuradhapura CTC Conference Hall on Thursday (25). Speaking further he said Gen. Sarath Fonseka who saved the country from terrorism and created an atmosphere for all communities to live in peace and harmony had lost his own freedom and was now in jail.

“As our rulers continue to violate the constitution or the common law of the country, we are nearing a chaotic situation here similar to that of Myanmar. The country would in turn face a serious economic crisis come August. Other countries and even the UNO have focused attention on the violation of human rights in this country, he added. “This would result in the denial of GSP concessions to Sri Lanka and in turn many garment factories will face a threat of closure.”

The former CJ warned that the loss of employment suffered by garment workers would further add to the unemployment problem facing the government. “The future of this country depends on finding lasting solutions to the problems I have mentioned above,” he said.

© Daily Mirror

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sri Lanka: "Sirasa" says anti-Akon protestors barking up the wrong tree

by Shamindra Ferdinando - Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena declined to comment on the attack. Claiming that he had been busy campaigning in Matara for the forthcoming General Election, Yapa urged the media to direct their questions to police headquarters.

Despite the Tourism Ministry denying its involvement with the now cancelled Akon concert, following last Monday’s attack on the MTV/MBC head office at Braybrook Place for being the sponsor of the event, it has come to light the MTV/MBC had only been the media sponsor, whereas the Sri Lankan Airlines, the Cinnamon Grand and Dialog Telecom PLC, too, threw their weight behind the controversial project.

A spokesman for MTV/MBC told The Island that the government and a section of the State-run and the privately-owned media had justified the attack on MTV/MBC on the grounds that they organized the event.

Tourism Minister Achala Jagoda on Thursday (March 25) made an abortive bid to distance his ministry from the Akon show, though Dileep Mudadeniya, the Managing Director of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said this would contribute immensely towards promoting tourism and make Colombo a popular venue in global entertainment. He said that the Akon show was in line with their campaign ‘Visit Sri Lanka 2011’ to attract tourists.

The Sirasa official said that they didn’t organize or fund the project, though an attempt was being made to blame the MTV/MBC management for inviting a foreign artiste, who had ridiculed Buddhism.

Nothing could be far from the truth, he said, emphasizing that they were only the media sponsor. He said that the print and electronic media reported on the Akon show in the recent past. Platinum Entertainment Private Limited is the main organizer of the event, in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

The Jathika Sanga Sammelanaya on Thursday denied allegations that its members had been at the scene of the attack. Ven. Hadigalle Wimalasara Thera said that an attempt was being made to blame it on the Jathika Sanga Sammelanaya, though they were not involved in the incident. The denial followed a statement issued by the Media Centre for National Security that members of the JSS had protested outside MTV/MBC offices shortly before the attack.

JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe said that those who promote tourism should be careful to ensure that they did not cause unnecessary problems.

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena declined to comment on the attack. Claiming that he had been busy campaigning in Matara for the forthcoming General Election, Yapa urged the media to direct their questions to police headquarters.

He was responding to queries at the weekly media briefing at his ministry. But Cabinet spokesman Minister G. L. Peiris assured that the party would take disciplinary action against any party member if found guilty of attacking Sirasa. Addressing the post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday, Peiris said that the President had directed the police to take action against the attackers. He was responding to a query whether any UPFA local government politicians had been involved in the incident.

Sirasa pointed out that the State media had accused Sirasa employees of attacking a group of protestors without any provocation. They were quoted as saying that Sirasa employees fired water cannon and pelted stones at them causing mayhem. Sirasa said that they could have deceived people with their lies if they did not capture them on video. Sirasa showed the presence of a police jeep at the scene of the attack, calling on people to help identify persons involved in the attack.

Sirasa went to the extent of offering Rs. 50,000 each to anyone helping the station identify each attacker.

© The Island

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