Golden memories and silver tears for Mahinda at Johnston’s new office

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The party office of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) parliamentarian Johnston Fernando at Wilgoda in Kurunegala had been burned down during the ‘Aragalaya’ period. The building where the Wilgoda office was located was about 105 years old. It was only this week that the newly rebuilt office was declared open by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Most of those in attendance at the event, though, were completely unaware that Mr. Rajapaksa would be at the event. The group of SLPP MPs who were initially taking part in the ceremony was to be led by National Organiser Namal Rajapaksa. The event was broadcast live on social media.

Those in attendance were, therefore, caught unawares by the sudden arrival of Mahinda Rajapaksa, with many party supporters rushing towards the former President in their excitement at his unexpected arrival. Despite having enormous difficulty getting towards the venue due to the large crowd trying to greet him, Mr Rajapaksa still made a point to stop and speak to as many people as he could.

When finally he got to his seat, he leaned over to Mr. Fernando and told him there was no way he was going to miss the event, as he remembered this was the office from which he began his campaign to be elected to Parliament from the Kurunegala District. “It was from this office that I started the campaign that would win me the largest number of preferential votes in the country’s history,” Mr. Rajapaksa recalled. “I felt immense sadness when I heard of it being burned down. However, I see today that it has been rebuilt in such a way that it is even more beautiful now than before,”  he told those present.

Wellington’s Assistant Anglican Bishop Anashuya Fletcher

Lankan-born Ana becomes Assistant Bishop of Wellington

Sri Lankan-born Rt Rev Anashuya Fletcher was recently ordained and installed as Assistant Bishop of Wellington, New Zealand. The event was held at the Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul and was attended by over 600 well-wishers.

Anashuya Fletcher (39) was born in Sri Lanka in 1984. A year later, Sri Lanka’s civil war led her Tamil Christian parents to move their young family to Aotearoa in New Zealand.

Arriving in Auckland, Anashuya’s Methodist father and Anglican mother, Niranjan and Suvendrini Richards, joined Mt Roskill Baptist Church which became Ana’s first spiritual home.

After completing her Bachelor of Commerce and LLB, Ms. Ana joined the International Justice Mission (IJM), going first to Washington DC, then on to India to serve as a legal fellow for IJM in its work protecting impoverished communities from violence and slavery. She was ordained a deacon in 2017 and a priest in 2018.

Bishop of Wellington Justin Duckworth welcomed his Assistant Bishop with enthusiasm, saying Rev. Ana not only demonstrates perseverance and resilience, but she is someone who has embraced Anglican tradition and reimagines it anew for this point in history.


Official dinner for Iranian president: Sajith explains why he did not attend

The state banquet hosted by President Ranil Wickremesinghe for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the absence of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa on Wednesday turned out to be something the latter had to clarify considering the ongoing geopolitical and diplomatic tensions and the timing of the visit.

Certain media outlets reported that the opposition leader did not turn up to express “his protest” against Iran in the wake of recent tensions in West Asia, where only days before the presidential visit, Iran launched a missile attack on Israel after one of its diplomatic missions in Syria was targeted, and Israel retaliated with a strike on Iran.

Issuing a statement, the opposition leader’s office said that if Mr. Premadasa took part in the state dinner, “there were plans by some journalists to publish fake reports claiming Ranil and Sajith are ready for a deal by utilising the opportunity.”

“This was also one of the reasons why it was decided not to attend the dinner,” the statement said, stressing that the office had indicated to the Iranian embassy in Colombo that the opposition leader was willing to meet the visiting president separately.

Meanwhile, Mr. Premadasa also took the matter to X, formerly known as Twitter, to mark his protest at some of the reasons given for his not attending the state banquet. He wrote, “I completely refute the malicious attempt by Ranil media which insinuates that I refused to meet with the Iranian president. As usual, the defeatist and morally bankrupt politicians are resorting to falsehoods to hoodwink the people of our country”.

Humour diplomacy: President Wickremesinghe with China’s Vice Minister Sun Haiyan

China’s vice minister impressed by Ranil’s sense of humour

The Chinese Communist Party International Department Vice Minister Sun Haiyan met President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat on Thursday. Ms. Haiyan was in the country for a two-day official visit.

During her discussions with the President, the Chinese Vice Minister said she had heard that President Wickremesinghe was a senior and experienced leader. However, it was only after meeting him that she came to know that he also had a good sense of humour, she said.

PM wants to make May Day a big day for alliance

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has taken the lead to ensure that all coalition parties of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led alliance come together for a joint May Day rally next week.

A special meeting to decide on the matter was held recently in Colombo, and it was attended by leaders of the SLPP, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and other political parties and trade unions affiliated to the alliance.

Trade union leaders pointed out that the SLPP alliance had not held a joint rally since last year’s May Day. The importance of bringing all the parties in the alliance together to hold a joint May Day rally was emphasised as it would show the alliance’s strength. Accordingly, the SLPP-led rally will be held at Campbell Park in Borella on Wednesday.

Road show vs. ground show

The ruling SLPP is the only major party to have reserved a public ground in Colombo for a May Day rally this year.

Commenting on the matter, SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam told the Sunday Times that this was because other parties knew that they would not be able to attract enough of a crowd to fill a big ground.

“It’s very easy to make a crowd seem larger than it actually is by holding a rally over a small area along a narrow public road. That’s why they are doing it,” he claimed.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna-led National People’s Power (NPP) will hold its rally on the road near Colombo’s Town Hall. Mr. Kariyawasam noted that the NPP’s rally would begin from a public ground, but the rally itself would be held on the road. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) too has said no to a ground and is holding its May Day rally on the road near Hilton Hotel and Lake House. The United National Party (UNP) too will hold its rally on the road near the Elphinstone Theatre, the SLPP General Secretary pointed out.

He claimed the SLPP would have reserved Galle Face Green, but since it is no longer given to host public rallies, the party decided to reserve the second biggest Colombo venue, Campbell Park. “We are confident that we will have enough people to fill that ground. Other parties don’t have that confidence. That is why they are holding their rallies on the road.”

In response, a senior UNP member, however, said that most parties no longer hold their rallies on public grounds. This is because, in the age of social media, they can use drones to easily fly over the streets to get dramatic shots of the crowd and then make those visuals go viral. The other advantage of holding a rally on a road is that people can easily disperse and go back to their homes once the rally ends, he added.


Green elephant to the rescue of captive elephants

An elephant race that was due to be held yesterday with 12 captive elephants at a New Year festival in Colombo attended by President Ranil Wickremesinghe was stopped at the last minute following instructions by the President.

The animal rights group Rally for Animal Rights and Environment (RARE) complained about the event at the Maradana Police after being tipped off about the planned event to be attended by the President.

An activist said they also reached out to the Presidential Secretariat and Minister Jeevan Thondaman to inform them of their opposition to the race and pointed out that the President’s presence during such a race could imply that he too was supporting cruelty to animals.

The President’s office and Mr. Thondaman had subsequently informed RARE that the President was strictly against such elephant races and had informed the organisers to cancel the race after it was brought to his attention that such a race was being planned.

RARE said it was grateful and happy that the President has taken a stand against captive elephant races.

“In this case, the ‘Green Elephant’ came to the rescue of the captive elephants,” quipped the activist from RARE.