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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

Forced quarantine of protestors: Teachers’ unions in Sri Lanka refuse to teach online

ECONOMYNEXT – Eighteen school teacher unions in Sri Lanka will refrain from conducting online classes from Monday (12) in protest of what they call the forced quarantine of 16 union members.

The Ceylon Independent Teachers’ Services Union (ITSU) and 17 other unions representing school principals and teachers that were engaged in online distance education in light of the pandemic are now on strike in solidarity with the quarantined activists, the union said in a joint statement.

Among the unions’ demands is the release of Ceylon Teachers’ Union (CTU) secretary general Joseph Stalin and 15 others who the unions charge were forcibly sent off to a quarantine centre in Mullaitivu after they were released on bail Friday afternoon (09).

The teachers’ unions also demand solutions to teacher principal salary anomalies and problems in online teaching.

Meanwhile, Director of Catholic Schools Fr Gamunu Dias said on Sunday that the Catholic schools will also not hold online classes from Monday and will join the teachers protest as they stand for the rights of education in the country.

Sri Lanka police arrested over 40 protestors in Colombo and elsewhere last Thursday (08) for allegedly violating quarantine regulations, even as government supporters were seen celebrating the swearing in of Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa by lighting firecrackers and  gathering in small groups.

A majority of the arrests were made at a protest held near parliament in Sri Jayawrdenapura, Kotte, against the proposed Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) bill.

Related: Sri Lanka police arrest over 45 for organising protests in violation of ban

Thirty-one people including Stalin were arrested near the parliament roundabout. The protest was jointly organised by the Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF), the Sri Lanka Teachers’ Union and the Frontline Socialist Party.

The protestors were granted bail but were subsequently packed off in buses to be quarantined, citing a comminuque from Health Services Director General Dr Asela Gunawardena that protests and public meetings must be temporarily banned in light of the COVID-19 situation.

On Friday, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa questioned the legal basis for directing individuals who were released on bail without even a COVID test.

“Police arrested the protestors and produced them in court where they were given bail,” Premadasa told parliament.

“But without a PCR or antigen test, not even with a public health inspector (PHI) checking them, the police, contravening all these rules and regulations, decided to quarantine them. That should have been done by a health official, not the police.

“How do they decide to quarantine people who got bailed, without doing an antigen or PCR test?” he said.

Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara responded that the decision to quarantine the protestors were taken by PHIs. However, media reports quoting PHI Union Chairman Upul Rohana said no such consultation had taken place.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka said Sunday (11) that authorities should not use quarantine rules to suppress peaceful protest, violating constitutional rights of the people, especially when they were bailed out by courts.

Related: Bar Association of Sri Lanka warns against using quarantine to suppress peaceful protest

The top United Nations official in Colombo also said Sri Lanka should not use quarantine rules to suppress peaceful protest.

Related: UN says Sri Lanka should not use Coronavirus quarantine to suppress peaceful protests


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Sri Lanka President cleared to discuss cancelled LRT after soured Japan relations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe discuss resuming a Japan funded. Light Rail Transit (LRT) project cabinet spokesman said, as the island nation is in the process of mending ties with Tokyo.

However, any such deals are likely to take place after the debt restructuring and Sri Lanka starts to repay its foreign loans to come out of default, analysts say.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unilaterally cancelled the 1.5 billion US dollar LRT and East Container Terminal (ECT) projects in 2021. Japan agreed to fund the LRT project while it was one of the tripartite members of the ECT project along with India and Sri Lanka.

The abrupt cancellation hit the diplomatic ties between the two countries and Sri Lankan government officials have said Japan had given the project to Sri Lanka at a very lower financing cost.

President Wickremesinghe returned from Japan late last week after having met top officials of the Japanese government including its prime minister.

“In recent history, due to the stopping of several agreements and proposals suddenly, President Wickremesinghe went to Japan after creating the background to clear some of the worries we have,” Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told the weekly media briefing.

“Before he went, he got the approval from the cabinet to resume the discussion on the light railway project. He got the approval from the cabinet to get parliament approval for bilateral agreements signed or any other investments project. Any change or cancellation of a project could be done only with the approval of the parliament.”

Japan has backed Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe’s presidency after the island nation declared sovereign debt default. (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka to tighten grip on television with broadcast law

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has formulated a broadcast authority law to regulate electronic media which will be made public soon, Cabinet spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardana said.

“The draft prepared by a cabinet subcommittee under Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa has discussed with various parties will be given to all media institutions and broadcast media,” Gunawardana said.

“We do not have to hide or force anyone. A legal framework that can be acceptable to all for all sectors.”

“In a week or two Minister Wijedasa will discuss with state and private stakeholders.”

At the moment Sri Lanka has issued frequencies without conforming to an “international procedures”, he said.

In Sri Lanka television frequencies are issued under a state television act.

Successive administrations in Sri Lanka has since around 1980 mis-used state television duopoly which including for conducting elections according to critics.

Private television as well a raio emerged around the 1990s and has since over shadowed state media.

There have been calls by ruling party politicians from time to time to control private media. There is now calls to control social media.

At a Committee on Public Accounts meeting of the Department of Government Information, ruling coalition legislators called for regulation of television content. (Colombo/May30/2023)

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Sri Lanka’s shares fall in mid day trade on need for clarity on DDO and DDR

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares fell in mid day trade on Tuesday on selling pressures and a wait and see approach on delays in confirmations of debt restructuring and debt optimization, an analyst said.

“Investors are adopting a wait and see approach on the need for more clarity on debt restructuring and debt optimization and decisions taken at the Policy Review Meeting,” an analyst said.

The main All Share Price Index was down 0.68 percent or 53.25 points to 8,516.86, while the most liquid index S&P SL20 was down 0.41 percent or 10.02 points to 2,418.90.

The market generated a turnover of 272 million rupees at 1230 hours.

The top losers were Vallibel One, Lanka IOC & Ceylon Tobacco Company. (Colombo/May30/2023)

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