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Thursday August 18th, 2022

Rajapaksa ventures into Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heartland in comeback bid

(Reuters) – Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ventured out of his southern power base and into Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heartland in his bid to regain power in Monday’s parliamentary election, eight months after crashing to defeat in a presidential vote.

A 27-meter statue of Buddha gazes from atop Elephant Rock over the provincial city of Kurunegala where the 69-year-old strongman is running, a reminder of his appeal to Sinhala-speaking Buddhists who make up more than seven in 10 voters nationwide.

The capital of Sri Lanka’s Northwestern Province also has a concentration of army personnel, veterans and widows of the 26-year civil war. They are natural supporters of Rajapaksa, who crushed ethnic minority Tamil rebels in 2009 and styles himself as a national savior.

Yet the predominant colors in the area are not the blue of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), but the green of premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) that formed a minority government after Rajapaksa was ousted in January.

"His time is over," Wickremesinghe, a three-time premier, told about 5,000 supporters at a campaign rally here, urging voters to send Rajapaksa into retirement.

Deprived of his customary control over the state media and security apparatus, Rajapaksa has struggled to build a groundswell of support to back a bid to lead the next government.

"The UNP and their coalition have momentum," said Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Sri Lanka’s 15 million voters go to the polls on Monday to elect the 225-strong parliament. Most seats will be decided in multi-member districts where voters can pick three names from a party list. Results are due on Tuesday.


Pundits say Wickremesinghe, a protege of President Maithripala Sirisena, would have the edge in a head-to-head contest for the premiership that Rajapaksa covets to relaunch his career and, opponents say, stay out of legal trouble.

Minority Tamils and Muslims are broadly sympathetic to the ruling coalition, while Rajapaksa only enjoys a slight lead among Sinhala voters, according to one survey.

In Kurunegala, where mosques and Muslim businesses were attacked by stone-throwing Buddhist militants last year, fear of Rajapaksa lingers on.

"We are afraid that the persecution of minorities could happen again if Rajapaksa returns," said Mohammad Sifnas, who runs a grocery stall in the central market.

His neighbor, K.G. Manjula Wijesinghe, a Buddhist, says: "Rajapaksa did not give any benefits to the public when he was in power. It’s a family of bandits."

The last 10 days of campaigning has been overshadowed by a murder investigation into the death in 2012 of national rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, whose remains were exhumed on Monday.

A government spokesman has alleged that three members of Rajapaksa’s security detail tortured Thajudeen to death. Rajapaksa, whose second son, Yoshitha, was captain of the national side at the time, denies that.

Rajapaksa and two brothers who both held high government office are also battling corruption allegations linked to lucrative Chinese investments.

Back in Kurunegala, Northwestern Province’s chief minister Dayasiri Jayasekara, who is running on the SLFP slate, called Rajapaksa a "war hero."

But he also urged Rajapaksa to mend fences with Sirisena, who has ruled out appointing his predecessor as prime minister.
"We are the people to patch up these two rivals," he told Reuters. (KURUNEGALA, Sri Lanka, Aug 14/2015)

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Sri Lanka rupee, yields in govt securities slightly changed

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened on Thursday (18) and yields in Treasury bonds picked up slightly while in T-bill edged down in dull trade after the central bank kept key monetary policy rates steady, dealers said.

On Thursday, before the market opened, the central bank held its key policy rates steady at 15.50 percent, while data showed market interest rates are close to twice the rate of them while private credit and imports falling as a consequence.

The central bank is injecting 740 billion rupees of overnight money to banks at 15.50 percent, which were originally injected mostly after reserves were sold for imports (or debt repayments) to artificially keep down rates (sterilized interventions), effectively engaging in monetary financing of imports.

The injections (sterilizing outflows) prevent the credit system from adjusting to the outflows and encourage unsustainable credit without deposits, which is the core problem with soft-pegged central banks, triggering a high rate and an economic slowdown later.

A bond maturing on 01. 06. 2025 closed at 27.90/28.00 percent, slightly up from 27.75/90 percent on Wednesday.

The three-months bill closed at 28.30/29.25 percent, down from 29.25/30 percent on Wednesday.

Sri Lanka’s central bank announced a guidance peg for interbank transactions weakened by one cent to 360.97 rupees against the US dollar on Thursday from 360.96 rupees.

Data showed that commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 367.97 and 370.00 for small transactions.  (Colombo/ Aug 18/2022)

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Japan grants medical equipment worth 500-mn yen to Sri Lanka govt hospital

ECONOMYNEXT –  The  Japanese government has granted medical equipment worth 500 million Japanese yen to the Sri Jayawardenepura government hospital to improve the hospital’s treatment facilities under Japan’s Non-Project Grant Aid Programme.

A statement by the Department of External Resources said the grant was given in response to a request by Sri Lanka’s government.

Under the 500 million Japanese yen (approximately 1,265 million rupees) grant assistance, angio-CT machine, other radiology equipment, ophthalmic instruments, surgical instrument sets (stainless steel with satin finish), 15 dental units with accessories, liver transplant instrument sets, and a cardiac catheterization laboratory will be provided, a statement said on Thursday August 18.

Sri Lanka due to its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history is currently facing shortages of essential medicine, non-essential and lifesaving medicines pressuring the health sector to only attend to emergency cases to preserve available limited medicine stocks.

On Thursday at the policy rate announcement media briefing by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said, with the strict measures taken in the recent past, Sri Lanka is currently managing the limited forex income coming into the country to purchase essential goods such as fuel and medicine.

Sri Lanka has received various grants from several countries including China and India which gave a 200 million US dollar credit line to purchase medicine from India.

In June, Minister of Health Keheliya Rambukwella said there is no shortage of vital medicines in the country and all medicines will be restocked by August 2022. However, shortages of medicine aer still being reported in various hospitals islandwide.

“This improvement at the hospital will facilitate the enhancement of the quality of the care provided especially to the patients with non-communicable diseases while enabling high quality medical professional training to medical undergraduates and postgraduates from the National School of Nursing at the aculty of Medical Sciences of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura,” the External Resources Department statement said.

“This project will eventually assist the development of human resources of the health sector in Sri Lanka,” it said. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)

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Sri Lanka immigration on the hunt for Scotswoman who documented protests

Kayleigh Fraser via @kayzfraser Instagram

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Immigration and Emigration Department is attempting to track down Kayleigh Fraser, the Scotswoman who documented the country’s anti government protests.

Fraser was ordered to leave the island on or before Monday August 15 after officials cancelled her visa. She and her lawyer had filed a writ petition against her deportation with the Supreme Court, which was dismissed on the grounds that she was not being deported deported, only had her visa cancelled.

“The learned State Council submits that the impugned document ‘X4’ is not a deportation order as claimed by the petitioner and she confirmed that no deportation order has been made up to date by the authorities against the petitioner,” a court document shared by Fraser said.

Immigration officials stated that the police and SSD were on the lookout for Fraser.

“Her visa was cancelled on August 15, so we are looking to put her in a detention camp until she can get a ticket to leave the country,” the official told EconomyNext, confirming that Fraser was not getting deported but that her visa was cancelled.

“Legally we cannot give her a grace period, but on a humanitarian basis, we can give her the time to get a ticket,” the official said.

Fraser had used her social media to share pictures and videos of the anti-government protests in front of the Presidential Secretariat, and has been vocal against state sanctioned violence against protestors.

“Given what I have witnessed here in Colombo – the chemical weapons attacks on protestors, the government instructing the military to beat and torture protestors, the arbitrary arrests and blackmailing of prominent faces from the protests, intimidation tactics and threats etc – I should not be surprised at what has happened today,” she said, speaking to the Daily Record, a Scottish tabloid.

There were no reports of chemical weapons being used against any protestors in Sri Lanka, and it is unclear whether Fraser was erroneously referring to tear gas which was used to disperse crowds.

Fraser also called out media channels who she claimed had attempted to misrepresent peaceful protests as violent.

“It became very clear to me early on that this was not being reported. There was no international coverage on what was happening, and the media here were very much trying to say that it was violent, but that is the absolute opposite of what I saw,” she said over social media.

“What I saw was a beautiful union [of people] coming together in absolute unity. It was a beautiful movement and I’ve never seen anything like that in my life and that kept me coming back.”

However, Sri Lanka’s authorities maintain that the arrests so far have been legal and that violence did occur on the part of some protestors, though activists and some civil society groups disagree. On May 09, after supporters of then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa launched an unprovoked attack on peaceful protestors in Colombo, a wave of retaliatory mob-violence erupted across the country which saw the residences of some parliamentarians torched to the ground. One government MP was killed.

Authorities say many of the arrests so far have been of protestors who had violated court orders or had illegally occupied government buildings.

Fraser continues to post on her social media. (Colombo/Aug18/2022)


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