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Written by Amali Dissanayaka
Published on Sunday, 18 August 2013 07:49
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Sunday Pol logo*New alliance to sign MoU on the 22nd
*Public meeting and protest in Weliweriya on the 27th

Sunday Politics
With Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  – Martin Luther King Jr.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government is yet to recover from the double whammy faced recently with the growing public outrage against the bloody mayhem in Weliweriya followed by an attack on a mosque in Grandpass by a mob led by Sinhalese Buddhists.
The mosque attack in Grandpass was a little too much for the people given that it occurred just 10 days after the Army’s riotous act in Weliweriya. Even the moderate Sinhala Buddhists condemned the attack on the mosque that took place just one day after the end of the holy month of Ramadhan.
The media that got a beating during the Weliweriya incident were cautious when covering the Grandpass mosque attack. However, while media personnel and camera crews gathered to cover the incident, most media institutions faced restraints when reporting the fracas.
Whether the Grandpass mosque attack was aimed at downplaying the aftershocks of the Weliweriya incident or a case of religious extremism, it is now evident that the Rajapaksa government is losing its grip on steering the country to solid ground even four years after the end of the war.
When news of the Grandpass mosque attack reached the public, it was a sense of despair that was felt by many. The attack was a clear case of an extremist act given the written assurance given by the Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs Ministry for the mosque to carry out its functions at the venue that was attacked by a mob led by Buddhist monks.
A letter signed by Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs Ministry Secretary M.K. Dissanayake on August 8th (two days prior to the attack) states that following the move by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) to take over the old mosque situated at No. 166 Swarna Chaithya Road, permission has been granted for the mosque to be relocated and continue its functions at the new premises at No. 158 down the same road.
The background to the attack is that the new mosque commenced its operations while the old mosque was tipped to taken over by the UDA. However, Sinhala Buddhist extremists have objected to the operation of two mosques on Swarna Chaithya Road, which they had identified as a Sinhala Buddhist area.
The group Ravana Balakaya first objected to the new mosque and its agitation resulted in other extremist elements joining in the campaign seeking its immediate closure. The groups decided to give one month for the new mosque to be shut down. The period of one month came to an end on August 10th. However, the Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs Ministry had already resolved the matter when the extremist elements decided to attack the mosque.
Interestingly, the mosque attack also brought to light the clashes between government ministers as well.
Senior Minister A.H.M. Fowzie and Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha have been engaged in a cold war since they were appointed as co-organizers of the SLFP to the Colombo Central electorate.
Mustapha, who has the backing of President Rajapaksa, played a key role in getting the new mosque on Swarna Chaithya Road receiving approval from the Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs Ministry.
The idea was to sideline Fowzie and promote Mustapha in the Colombo Central electorate.
However, when all hell broke loose on the 10th, it was Fowzie who had to intervene and bring together the Muslim ministers to discuss the clashes between the Sinhala Buddhist extremists and Muslims in Grandpass.
Fowzie convened a meeting of Muslim ministers at his residence and issuing a joint statement following the discussion, the ministers expressed their “unequivocal and unreserved” condemnation of the attack in Grandpass.Sunday P-August 18 2013


They said the attack was premeditated and planned.
“The notion that there are elements in our society who can act with impunity should be totally eradicated from the public perception that has now taken root in our society,” the joint statement said.
“The State has a fundamental duty to ensure that our religious freedom is preserved in this multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation,” the Ministers added.
The joint statement was issued by Ministers Fowzie, Rauf Hakeem, Rishad Bathiutheen, A.L.M. Athaullah and Basheer Segu Dawood, and Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha. Deputy Ministers A.L.M. Athaullah and A.R.M. Abdul Cader did not sign the statement since they were out of Colombo.
Public condemnation
When the Muslim ministers decided to take a hard line stance on the attack, JHU General Secretary, Minister Champika Ranawaka made his way to Grandpass and discussed the issue with the Sinhala Buddhist residents, trustees of the mosque and Muslim residents in the area.
President Rajapaksa who was hopeful of reaching a settlement through the Muslim ministers and the people in Grandpass was not pleased with Ranawaka’s move. It was viewed as an attempt by the Minister who follows a hard line Sinhala stance to promote his image.
A meeting was convened on Sunday evening at the Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs Ministry between all stakeholders to discuss the mosque issue. The decision was finally made to stop the UDA from acquiring the old mosque and to cut down a Bo tree next to it in order to allow the expansion of the mosque premises while shutting down the new mosque.
Nevertheless, the clashes during the weekend resulted in police curfew being imposed in the Grandpass area on Saturday and Sunday night.
The media however, faced an unofficial censorship where the reporting of the Grandpass issue was concerned. Some media personnel who covered the incident were informed by their respective media institutions that the story cannot be given much prominence.
In the light of the suppression faced by the media, it is encouraging to note that members of civil society have taken the initiative by issuing official statements condemning undemocratic acts carried out or encouraged by the Rajapaksa government.
In response to the attack on the Grandpass mosque, 208 Sri Lankans issued a statement urging law enforcement authorities to ensure strict adherence to the Rule of Law and prosecute those who are responsible for these heinous crimes, in the existence of abundant evidence put forward by both the public and the media.
“In addition, we are very disturbed to see continued Police inaction and delays in responding to incidents of racist mob violence, which is a clear indication of State complicity, and the lack of any interest by Defence Authorities to hold perpetrators accountable,” the statement read.
“Further, we call on the Government to investigate into and hold accountable those responsible for the brutal killing of three youth in Weliweriya earlier this month, when the State sent in the military to quell a civilian protest calling for clean water,” it added.
The statement also noted, “In light of reports of media suppression and violence against media personnel reporting from the scene, we strongly urge law enforcement authorities and the protestors to respect the freedom of the press, and to take all measures to ensure their safety.”
Force for Unity
In a show of strength, opposition political parties, civil society organizations, media associations and trade unions took to the streets on the 14th as the Force for Unity.
Protestors after some time were heard shouting anti government slogans, especially aimed at the decision making members in the Rajapaksa administration. A crowd amounting close to 5,000 shouted “Enough is enough!”
Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe showed strength and vigour at the protest, which is a marked improvement from his image from a few years ago. The leadership shown by Wickremesinghe at the protest in fact gave strength to the protestors to march up to the Presidential Secretariat demanding answers.
The buses used as barricades by the police were no match for the protestors who were determined to make their cause known.
When the police prevented the protestors from marching any further, Wickremesinghe and UNP seniors sat on the road with the protestors saying they would not leave until they receive answers about the Weliweriya incident.
Members of the Force for Unity handed over a petition addressed to the President to the Presidential Secretariat.
The Presidential Secretariat said that a response would be given within the next 24 hours.
According to members of Force for Unity, the government’s actions were pushing the people towards an Arab Spring style protest in the country.
“Your government is proving incapable of finding answers to even local issues of the people, compelling them to come on the streets. Your government’s answer thereafter has been the use of brutal armed repression on such innocent civilians.
“Villagers in Rathupaswala, Nedungamuwa and Weliweriya area who demanded clean drinking water on August 01st, whose complaints on water pollution were not heeded over many months, were simply mauled with brute terror let loose on children, men, women and old people. Officially, 03 youth have succumbed to their injuries,” the petition stated.
Following are the four questions posed to the President:
1. Who issued orders to the military to open fire at unarmed civilians?
2. Why were military personnel deployed to disperse the protestors with live ammunition?
3. Why hasn’t an independent probe been initiated into the Weliweriya attack?
4. What is your government’s permanent answer for Rathupaswala villagers who claim their traditional water sources are polluted?
“As the elected President and as Minister of Defence of the Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka, we hold you responsible and duty bound by the country’s Constitution, to provide answers to the people of Sri Lanka,” the petition pointed out.
Be that as it may, the response of the government in 24 hours was for the Police to file a B report in Court claiming that the Force for Unity protest had violated a ruling issued by the Court.
The Police in a bid to prevent the Force for Unity protest on the 14th requested for a Court order against the demonstration.
The Court however, refused to stop the protest, but said the protest should be held without causing any inconvenience to the public without any marches.
The police have now said that the protestors had violated the court ruling by walking up to the Presidential Secretariat.
The UNP is now initiating a move to get several political parties and movements to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on August 22nd to carry out a campaign to topple the government.
Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told the gathering at the Force for Unity protest that this alliance would force the government to hold a general election in January next year.
He said the protest is a symbol for the many protests to follow in the country.
He assured that the new alliance would work towards toppling the government.
Speaking of the recent shooting incident in Weliweriya, Wickremesinghe said the persons responsible for the attack on civilians in Weliweriya should be produced before court.
The Force for Unity meanwhile is to hold a public meeting and protest in Weliweriya on the 27th and a protest in Galle on September 3rd.
“We will not stop. As we have said ‘enough is enough!’ we must continue with the campaign and we must go to all parts of the country to get the people to join us,” a member of the Force for Unity steering committee said.
Army report delayed
Amidst the continuous protests over the killings in Weliweriya, the report by the Army into the incident is being delayed. The Army initiated an internal probe into the Weliweriya incident and the report was to be finalized last Friday. However, on Friday it was reported that it would be ready by Wednesday (21).
Realizing the damage caused to the Army’s image following the Weliweriya incident locally and internationally, Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya met with the media last week.
During the meeting he said that the Army’s report on the Weliweriya incident would be tabled in parliament and presented to the foreign missions in the country.
He added that the Army could be present during a protest on a request made by the Police, but under the supervision of a Magistrate.
However, when the local media had questioned him about the presence of a Magistrate during the Weliweriya incident, he had dodged by saying he would have to wait until the report was released.
He had also told the media that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay would meet with the Defence Secretary during her visit to Sri Lanka on the 25th of this month.
According to Jayasuriya, the country’s security situation and accountability issues would be discussed during this meeting.
“Her visit, the CHOGM, the elections in North and the UNHRC session will directly impact on national security. Therefore we have to maintain law and order,” he was quoted in the media as saying.
He has said that the image of the country was very important and warned that there would be attempts to tarnish it before November.
“Therefore we are planning to control our military appropriately as there will be incidents of sabotage by identifying social and economic problems in the country,” Jayasuriya has noted adding that the media needed to help the Army.
However, Jayasuriya should have been reminded that there would not be any space for criticisms against the Army without any reason.
Meanwhile, Pillay’s spokesperson Rupert Colville has said the High Commissioner will undertake field visits to the North and East of the country.
Issuing a statement Colville has said, “Pillay is scheduled to call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and meet government ministers and officials. She will hold talks with senior judicial figures, members of the National Human Rights Commission and the committee monitoring the National Plan of Action on the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. She will also meet representatives of civil society and undertake field visits to the north and east of the country.”
GL to India
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris is to visit India today (18) to officially invite India for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Colombo this November.
The Indian media has reported that issues related to India and Sri Lanka are also likely to be discussed during Peiris’ visit to New Delhi.
Some political parties in India have protested and called on the Indian government not to participate in the CHOGM.

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 August 2013 07:49