Mahinda Rajapakse - New security concerns
and Ranil Wickremesinghe - Under seige
Tuesday, March 10 was a holy day for many Sri Lankans.
As a full moon Poya day and the date of the Milad Ul
Nabi festival which marks the birth of the Prophet
Mohammed - it was a significant date for both Buddhists
15 am, people were already gathered at the Godapitiya
Jumma Mosque grounds in Akuressa to celebrate the
important Islamic festival while non Muslims too had
gathered in the vicinity of the mosque to witness the
Scheduled to participate in the celebration were senior
Ministers A.H.M. Fowzie, Mahinda Wijesekera, Mahinda
Yapa Abeywardene, Pandu Bandaranayake, Chandrasiri
Gajadheera and Ameer Ali.
ministers arriving from
were to be joined by Southern Province Chief Minister
and SLFP Akuressa Organiser, H.G. Sirsena, his son and
Southern Provincial Councillor Manoj Sirisena and Matara
District Secretary Mrs. S.K. Atukorale.
ministers arrived at approximately 10.30 am and joined
the head of the procession which was making its way
towards the mosque. A push bicycle was traveling in the
opposite direction despite gestures by organisers to
clear the road. The bicycle however swiftly moved closer
to the ministers.
procession was just passing a group of traditional
dancers when a deafening boom was heard. Most attendees
in their innocence believed at first that the noise was
that of fireworks as the ceremony was about to begin.
seconds it was clear that a human bomb had struck again.
There were people covered with blood, others with burns
and cuts lay on the floor in a state of shock, unable to
comprehend that they had just been fortunate enough to
Minister Mahinda Wijesekera had fallen on the asphalt
bleeding profusely from his head. He was quickly helped
into a van by a group of people.
Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene had a few injuries,
but his diligent security men quickly escorted him
across the road, physically pushed him into a nearby
house and firmly shut the door.
couldn't tell you what it was like. We honestly though
it was the fireworks until we saw the blood and strewn
metal," Minister A.H.M. Fowzie told this column.
ministers also suffered minor injuries in the Akuressa
blast which ultimately left 45 injured and 14 dead.
Meanwhile, President Mahinda Rajapakse was at Temple
Trees where the Poya sermon, a tradition since he
assumed office had just drawn to a close. The President
was speaking to some of his invitees when Additional
Secretary Gamini Senarath rushed to his side to whisper
that an explosion had taken place at a ceremony attended
by several ministers.
President's eyes mirrored his shock and he quickly
inquired as to who were there. Rajapakse then issued
orders that a special medical team be rushed to Akuressa.
President Rajapakse fired a telephone call next to
Health Ministry Secretary Athula Kahandaliyanage and
ordered that everything be promptly arranged to airlift
the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Mahinda
Wijesekra who was critically injured to Colombo.
those who were in Matara but fortunate enough to be away
from the scene of the explosion were Ministers Bandula
Gunawardena and Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene. Media
Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene was attending a Poya
Day programme sponsored by ITN held at a temple nearby
while Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena was
officiating another event organised by the Sanasa Bank.
Hearing of the incident, both of them rushed to the
Akuressa venue to witness the debris and destruction.
as they reached the venue, the helicopter bearing
neurosurgeon Sunil Perera and four other medical experts
reached the Matara Uyanwatta Stadium. Dr. Perera
immediately scanned injured Minister Wijesekera but
ruled out emergency surgery at the
due to a lack of facilities and possible risk.
explained the situation, he suggested that Minister
Wijesekera be promptly flown to
however things didn't go according to plan. It soon
became clear that the aircraft lacked sufficient fuel to
Colombo. Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene quickly ordered that
the aircraft be flown to Koggala Air Force Base for
meantime, the doctors attended to the injured and
prepared to airlift Minister Wijesekera, Akuressa
Organiser H.G. Sirisena and Manoj Sirisena. The two
ministers who arrived to lend a helping were also flown
half an hour, the medical team and the patients reached
Colombo and were rushed to the Colombo National Hospital
where Director National Hospital, Dr. Hector Weerasinghe
awaited their arrival, having taken all the necessary
steps to immediately admit the patients and to commence
Minister Wijesekera underwent immediate surgery lasting
four hours and was subsequently transferred to the
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where he remains under
observation. He was initially reported to be in a
critical condition but doctors are pleased with his
progress so far.
night, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) had two special
visitors. President Mahinda Rajapakse and First Lady
Shiranthi visited Minster Wijesekera at around
then, H.G. Sirisena had regained consciousness and was
able to exchange a few words with the President who
wished him a speedy recovery and left.
President immediately issued instructions that no
minister should hereafter attend any public ceremony of
national level without Defence Ministry approval and
that local organisers should obtain permission from the
nearest police station.
President also informed the ministers who were gathered
at Temple Trees that it was obvious that the LTTE was
bent on revenge which called for extra precautions.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking story of the entire
incident was that of Gishan Dilroy (40), a personal
bodyguard of Minister Mahinda Wijesekera who was
instantly killed in the explosion.
the telephone call was made to his home to inform of his
death, it was his mother who answered the telephone.
Hearing the news she suffered a heart attack and died.
He and his mother both made their final journey on
Wednesday, Transport Minister Dulles Alahapperuma and
Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Minister,
Rishard Bathiudeen visited the hospital to speak to the
injured. The latter also handed over cheques of Rs.10,
000 to the injured while those who lost lives were paid
Rs. 100,000 as compensation.
Meanwhile, Police Spokesperson SSP Ranjith Gunasekara
told this column that the Criminal Investigations
Department (CID) had taken over investigations into the
Akuressa bombing with four special police teams
conducting separate investigations.
the Akuressa bombing shocked the nation anew, the
political battles continued unabated within the two main
Divided to the core and facing imminent break up is the
main opposition United National Party (UNP) with two
camps now clearly emerging.
UNP rebels who earlier demanded a special group meeting
want to turn the March 16 parliamentary group meeting
into something of a mini battle. The reason for their
new belligerence is the stoic refusal of the party
leadership to respond to their demand and moves by the
incumbent leader to create two new assistant leader
posts to be filled by Ranil Wickremesinghe loyalists.
rebellious group met at the parliamentary rest room on
March 5 to discuss future action. Attending the meeting
were two neutral members, Kabir Hashim and Party Vice
President, Jayawickrema Perera. Hashim wanted to know
whether it was possible to tow a moderate line without
making the factions visible which would prove
detrimental to the party as it prepares for a crucial
also asked the rebels as to what course of action they
would take in the event their demand - namely
Wickremesinghe relinquishing the party leader post -
does not take place. The members explained that they
would be compelled to boycott working committee
meetings, parliamentary group meetings and finally
parliament itself to show their protest.
Johnston Fernando said if Wickremesinghe refuses to step
down, the rebel MPs would not attend any discussion even
if they were summoned.
the meeting was in progress, Sergeant-at-Arms, Anil
Samarasekera rushed into the rest room. When the MPs
asked why, Samarasekera said he was informed that there
was an exchange of blows inside the rest room and he
came to check. MP Dayasiri Jayasekera informed him there
was no such thing and somebody had given him a dead
were other curious members dropping by too. SLMC's
Fausal Cassim was one such, and he was invited to be
seated while the members held discussions.
there was UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake who
apologised for opening the room door with no knowledge
of a meeting in progress. While opening the door, MP
Lakshman Seneviratne requested him to be seated and
said, "We know you cannot comment. But we are fine if
you sit and observe."
MPs spoke about the need to have a leadership change as
well as constitutional amendments to ensure inner party
democracy. They openly spoke of appointing Deputy Leader
Karu Jayasuriya as the interim leader and to recognise
both S.B. Dissanayake and Sajith Premadasa as deputy
Jayawickrema Perera and Kabir Hashim persistently asked
who in their opinion should be the next leader to which
they offered no direct answer.
however insisted that Wickremesinghe should relinquish
the party leadership first and blamed the incumbent for
not building a second tier of leadership in the party.
Further they critiqued Wickremesinghe for bringing in
Karu Jayasuriya back when there was a call within the
party to elevate both Dissanayake and Premadasa to
MPs also alleged that if a snap presidential election is
called, the UNP would suffer a severe defeat. Besides,
they felt another leader should be groomed immediately
to take over the campaign when a general election is
a person will need time to consolidate his position and
to work with the team. That appointment should be made
immediately," said Lakshman Seneviratne.
meantime, the Wickremesinghe camp is also not without
options. Those close to the party leadership have now
mooted two assistant leader posts be created. The two
names that are touted are those of senior members,
Vajira Abeywardene and Ravi Karunanayake.
Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe last week discussed the
prevailing economic doom with some of the party
frontliners. He brought to their notice that the
government that spoke of a culture of non-borrowing from
lending organisations has now resorted to requesting a
bail out package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Wickemesinghe also told his Economic Affairs Committee
that Central Bank Governor, Nivard Cabraal had offered
wrong information oftentimes and misdirected the
national economy that it was inadequate to merely call
for a parliamentary debate on Cabraal but also to study
the imprudent decisions made by the Central Bank in the
recent past through a special committee.
noted by Ravi Karunanayake that parties that threatened
to pull the plug off the World Bank were now maintaining
silence while the government continued to borrow at high
the same Cabraal who made a public statement on January
18 that Sri Lanka's economy was stable and unaffected by
the global meltdown. But now he had written to the IMF
requesting US$ 1900 million," Wickremesinghe noted.
meantime, the UNP has taken a decision to remove all
electoral organisers who fail to secure their
electorates at forthcoming elections. The rebels are now
questioning this decision whether it applies to the
party leadership that has now set a record of losing
UPFA too, things are far from peaceful. There is a cold
war brewing between candidates Thilanga Sumathipala and
Duminda Silva as they both silently vie for the top
post. There is also the former chief minister of the
province, Reginald Cooray appealing to his electorate to
ensure he polls the highest preferences to achieve the
Silva had a head start with a tsunami-like poster and
cutout campaign, only to have them removed by a special
last week attended a reception organised to welcome him
at the Maligawatte Housing Scheme. Presidential Advisor
A.H.M Azwer also attended it. The former UNP
parliamentarian during his speech remarked that he was
coming from Temple Trees. Next he inferred that he
understood why President showered praise on the young
candidate at Temple Trees. "It is because he is likely
to be the chief minister," he said.
beamed, but his happiness was momentary. President
Rajapakse was livid when he heard that Azwer made such a
faux pas especially when the party has not made a final
decision on the top slot.
Wednesday, Rajapakse summoned all WPC candidates and
issued a few warnings. He told them not to resort to cut
throatism and not to attack candidates representing
constituent parties such as the JHU and NFF. But he made
no reference to the UNP dissidents extending support to
the government. "We are in a partnership. Don't attack
partners," the President warned.