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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

SJB defiant: Sri Lanka opposition to go ahead with protest despite legal hurdles

image – Harin Fernando Facebook

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s main opposition the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) is determined to go ahead with a mass rally cum protest planned for Tuesday (16) despite what the party claims are government attempts to block it, party spokesmen said.

The event was originally supposed to take the form of a number of protest marches in different parts of the country culminating in a mass rally at Hyde Park grounds, Colombo, against the “accursed government”. But the public health department of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) had other ideas. Last Friday (12), it revoked an approval it had previously given the SJB for the Hyde Park rally, citing increased COVID-19 cases.

Last Thursday (11), a gazette was issued with amendments to Sri Lanka’s quarantine ordinance, making it mandatory for event organisers to obtain prior approval from relevant authorities for any public gathering. The authorities were empowered to make decisions on venues, the number of participants and other particulars.

The latest development is court orders sought by Sri Lanka police blocking the protest.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nihal Thalduwa told EconomNext Monday (15) afternoon that Hulftsdorp magistrate’s court 5, Mahara magistrate’s  courts  1 and 2, the Kaduwela magistrate’s court and the Homagama magistrate’s court has issued orders to this effect.

“Some other courts’ orders are pending. The request from police to the courts was to issue orders to prevent the rally under quarantine law,” said Thalduwa.

SJB MPs cried foul.

SJB general secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara told EconomyNext that the rally will go ahead as planned, despite the government’s best efforts to block it. Though some courts had issued orders against it, other courts have rejected the appeal from the police, the MP said.

“The government is trying in various ways to stop the event, but this is failing,” he said.

Asked for more details on the nature of the event, Bandara said a number of participants cannot be specified because “everyone will come voluntarily”.

“Expect a good crowd, and protest marches coming from several areas will gather in Colombo,” he said.

The main opposition party has been promoting the protest for over a week, with videos shared online and on broadcast media inviting the public to join its protest against an “accursed” government which has betrayed its own voters.

If it goes according to plan, the protest will see thousands of farmers and people of all walks of life take to the streets to express their frustration over the rising cost of living, the ailing economy, the COVID-19 epidemic, and a number of other issues.

MP Harin Fernando told reporters last week that the objective of the protest will be to see if the government will make good a perceived threat to “grab farmers by the neck”.

Related: Sri Lanka opposition SJB to launch massive farmers’ protest on Nov 16: MP

Other SJB lawmakers who spoke at a press conference Monday morning accused the government of dictatorial attempts to stifle protest.

SJB member S M Marikkar questioned what he claimed was the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)’s hypocrisy with respect to COVID-19 regulations.

“How did the SLPP have its anniversary celebration then? How is the president holding Katina (a Buddhist religious event) ceremonies with a massive crowd? How was the [opposition United National Party] allowed to hold a protest at the Lipton Circus? Was that part of a deal?” said Marikkar.

“Public protest against this dictatorial regime cannot be suppressed this way. It cannot be allowed to suppress it,” he added.

The MP also accused the government of not heeding expert calls for a lockdown when Delta-led COVID-19 deaths were spiking in August.

“We have no wish to grab power at this time. We will come to power through an election. But this leader must learn the kind of strain the people are under,” he added.

Firebrand SJB MP Harin Fernando said: “Sir is scared. He has gone crazy. We are definitely coming tomorrow.”

“Sir fail” has been a popular meme on social media in Sri Lanka which has now become an opposition mantra against the failures of the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Fernando further said the police cannot be blamed for seeking court orders to prevent the rally as they are compelled to follow orders from the top.

“We have made revelations about DIGs in parliament, senior police officers who hid in hotels when they were needed the most. Such senior police officers exert pressure on junior officers,” Fernando claimed, referring to a controversial speech he made in parliament last week on the 2019 Easter bombings.

Related: Sri Lanka police minister denies Easter attack allegations; opposition doubles down

“We ask police officers to have a backbone and remember that governments change. The same government won’t be there forever,” the MP said.

Nor does the SJB wish to harass the health sector, he said.

“A president who isn’t afraid would never attempt to sabotage such democratic rallies,” he added. (Colombo/Nov15/2021)

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Sri Lanka’s stocks end over one-month low on weak macroeconomic sentiments

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares end lower on Tuesday as selling pressure continues while investors continues for more clarity on local debt restructuring, an analyst said.

The main All Share Price Index (ASPI) was down 0.50 percent or 42.52 points to 8,532.60, the lowest since April 27.

The most liquid index was up 0.14 percent or 3.42 points to 2,418.90.

“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.

Sri Lanka’s government was to disclose the stance on domestic debt restructuring towards the end of May, which is why investors have adopted a wait and see approach, however officials have stated there will be a delay in the process of revelation. 

A news article circulating says, non-agreement on the percentage of haircut that the external creditors would take in Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring has taken the Central Bank to the drawing board which has led to the delay in announcing the debt restructuring strategy. 

Sri Lanka’s Monetary Policy Review is scheduled for 01 June 2023, investors are quite optimistic that inflation is to lower and interest rates will decrease, an analyst said.

Analysts said the low volumes seen in the market are due to the debt restructuring concerns, and investors are waiting for the monetary policy review for the next month.

“Stocks went down due to selling pressures resulting from relaxed import restrictions, which are expected to reduce the monopolistic powers held by domestic retailers,” an analyst said.

The main reason for the market’s negative sentiment is the loss of monopoly as import restrictions ease, an analyst said.

The market generated revenue of 575 million rupees, while the daily average turnover was 1.2 billion rupees.

Top losers during trade were Vallibel One, Ceylon Tobacco Corporation and Elipitiya Plantations.

The market generated a foreign inflow of 33 million rupee and the net foreign inflow was 112 million rupees. (Colombo/May 29, 2023)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 293.50/294.50 to dollar , bond yields steady

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at stronger at 293.50 /294.50 against the US dollar in the spot market on Tuesday, while bond yields were unchanged, dealers said.

The rupee closed at 296.75 /297.25 to the US dollar on Monday after opening around 296.50 /297.50 rupees.

A bond maturing on 01.09.2027 closed at 26.50/65 percent unchanged from Monday’s close.

Sri Lanka’s rupee is appreciating amid negative private credit which has reduced outflows after the central bank hiked rates and stopped printing money. (Colombo/ May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka food producers on countdown; 6-months to reduce trans fat content

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan food manufacturers only have another six months to reduce the amount of trans fat in food items as the government plans to ban high trans-fat food from January 2024 onwards, an official said.

“A six-month grace period has been given to existing manufacturers, sellers and distributors whose products contain trans-fat,” an official of the Ministry of Health told EconomyNext requesting anonymity.

According to a Ministry of Health gazette issued on… a person shall not sell, offer for sale, expose or keep for sale or advertise for sale, any packaged food product containing trans-fat unless the total amount of trans-fat of such food product per 100 grams or 100 milliliters of the food product is declared on the label of such packaged food product.

However, these regulations will not be applicable for export oriented food products.

Trans-fat is a type of fat that has certain chemical properties and is usually found in processed foods such as baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, shortening, margarine, and certain vegetable oils.

Eating trans-fat increases blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Sri Lanka for enacting a legislation on trans-fat to protect health and prevent premature deaths from coronary heart disease, a statement from the WHO said.

“Eliminating trans-fats from food supplies is a cost-effective measure with enormous health benefits,” the statement quoting Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.

“By enacting legislation on trans-fat, Sri Lanka has once again demonstrated its resolve to protect and promote the health of its people”.

The regulations are coming into effect as Sri Lanka is struggling with food insecurity as the country recovers from its worst economic crisis.

However, an improvement in food security across all provinces has been recorded, according to an assessment by a Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) of two UN agencies. (Colombo/ May 30/2023)

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