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Friday December 9th, 2022

Angry Sri Lankan protestors demand arrest of ex-minister Johnston Fernando

ECONOMYNEXT – A protest calling for the arrest of Sri Lanka’s former Highways Minister Johnston Fernando took place outside the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters in Colombo on Tuesday (24).

The minister was being questioned at the CID over his alleged involvement in government-backed violence unleashed on peaceful protestors on May 09 which led to retaliatory mob violence around the country.

Barricades were put up near the CID building, and police and the armed Special Task Force (STF) personnel stood guard. The surrounding roads were also barricaded and guarded, leaving office workers little space to get to the main road and catch a bus home. The panic was palpable. People did not want to be present for a rehashing of May 09 or ‘Black Monday’, as it has come to be known.

Most of the protesters at York Street had been present during the assaults on May 09, and were sporting bandages and casts. While happy to speak to the media, they were wary of giving names as they felt targeted for exercising their basic rights. Some were wearing homemade protective gear, apprehensive of a tear gas or water cannon attack.

Viraj, who has been active at the Gotagogama protest site in Colombo speaking to EconomyNext said:  “They beat up the youth. Now the police are protecting thieves. Is this what is meant by ‘one country one law’? Do the police have no shame? All these people must be arrested. We have been protesting for 46 days, and we will continue to do so.”

Minister Fernando is one of 22 individuals whose arrest has been called for by the Attorney General in connection to Black Monday. So far over 1,000 individuals have been arrested.

Fernando in particular provoked the ire of the public by his comments on the anti government protests when they first began some weeks prior to May 09/

“The problem is that the government is too lenient. If we kill one crow (said in reference to the anti-government protestors) and hang up their wings this will all end,” he said earlier this year. He was also filmed provoking the pro government crowd at Temple Trees on the morning of May 09 who had arrived for an event to ask then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to not resign.

“There is something called Mynagogama in front of Temple Trees. Today, we will end that. Get ready. We will start the war!” he exclaims, moments before the attacks that led to the assaults on protestors who had until then been peaceful.

The aftermath of the attack on the Galle Face protestors was widespread violence that lasted well into the night, with houses of ruling party MPs being looted and burnt. SLPP supporters including musician Iraj Weeraratne were also allegedly targeted. Mobs burnt down the home and buildings belonging to Gnana Akka, the President’s personal shaman. The pro-government mob that launched the initial attack was rounded up and roundly beaten up, while some where pitched into the Beire Lake along with burnt buses and other vehicles. At least one of the government supporters succumbed to his injuries a few days ago.

Although reconstruction of the Gotagogama protest sites began almost immediately after the attack, crowds have lessened noticeably. Before the attack, there would easily be at least 500 protestors at any given time, but now it’s a fraction of that number. Protestors say that the rising cost of living and the dire situation of the country is forcing people to stay at home. Some protestors say that United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s appointment as Prime Minister has sent away the UNP supporters, a massive blow to protests that were supposed to be non partisan.

As the crowd in York Street grew, and the protest chants grew louder, water cannons werre brought in. Footage showed a scuffle where protesters were breaking down the barricades. Meanwhile, after a five-hour statement, Fernando quietly exited the building through the backdoor. (Colombo/May25/2022)

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Sri Lanka shares fall on profit taking after nine sessions

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka shares slipped on Friday after gaining for nine straight sessions reverting from its highest gain in more than seven weeks on profit taking, brokers said.

“Bourse regressed to red ending the 9-day winning streak as investors resorted to book profits in blue chip counters,” First Capital Market Research said in it’s daily note.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) closed 0.54 percent or 47.84 points lower at 8,843.90.

The market witnessed a turnover of 1.6 billion rupees, lower than this year’s daily average turnover of 2.9 billion rupees.

The market saw a net foreign inflow of 1 million rupees. The total net foreign inflow stood at 22 billion rupees so far for this year.

The Paris Club group of creditor nations has proposed a 10-year debt moratorium on Sri Lankan debt and 15 years of debt restructuring as a formula to resolve the island nation’s prevailing currency crisis.

The government is in discussions with Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank to get loans of 1.9 billion US dollars after a reform program with the International Monetary Fund is approved.

A policy loan now being discussed with the World Bank may bring around 700 million US dollars, Coomaraswamy told a business forum organized by CT CLSA Securities, a Colombo-based brokerage.

The Asian Development Bank may also give around 1.2 billion US dollars most of which will be budget support, he said.

In the last few sessions, market gained after the Central bank governor said interest rates should eventually ease despite the fears of a domestic debt restructuring as inflation falls, increased liquidity in dollar markets, and the inter-bank liquidity improves.

The more liquid index S&P SL20 closed 0.59 percent or 16.77 points lower at 2,827.72.

So far in December ASPI gained 2.2 percent.

The ASPI gained 0.5 percent in November after losing 13.4 percent in October.

It has lost 27.6 percent year-to-date after being one of the world’s best stock markets with an 80 percent return last year when large volumes of money were printed.

John Keells Holdings pulled the index down to close at 1.5 percent lower at 147 rupees.

Aitken Spence lost 2.0 percent to close at 141 rupees and Commercial Bank closed 1.4 percent down at 50.50 rupees a share. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)


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Sri Lanka bond yields end higher, kerb dollar Rs370/371

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka bonds yields ended up and the T-bills eased on active trade on Friday, dealers said.

The US dollar was 370/371 rupees in the kerb.

“The bond rates went up, however more interest was seen in the short term bills by the investors” dealers said.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2024 closed at 31.90/32.20 percent on Friday, up from 31.25/70 percent at Thursday’s close.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 30.30/31.30 percent steady from 30.30/31.00 percent.

The three-month T-bills closed at 30.75/31.30 percent, down from 32.00/32.25 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions was at 363.18 rupees against the US dollar unchanged.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 371.78 and 372.00 for small transactions, data showed.

Buying rates are between 361.78 – 362.00 rupees. (Colombo/Dec 09/2022)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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