PM assures religious freedom

The monks forced the police to seal the premises on Friday and issued a deadline for the authorities remove the mosque saying if it is not removed by Monday then they will remove it themselves.In a move seen aimed at defusing the tensions Prime Minister Jayaratna on Sunday ordered that the mosque be relocated to another suitable location. The government today assured it will protect religious freedom in the country after a demand by Buddhists monks to remove a mosque in central Sri Lanka had created controversy.Prime Minister D.M Jayaratna said that while the Sri Lankan constitution calls for the promotion and protection of Buddhism, it does not encourage one to harm the rights of other religions. Monks and protestors had last week converged on a mosque in Dambulla and demanded that it be demolished on the basis that it has been constructed near a Buddhist Temple. “Doing such a thing is not right. As Buddhists we cannot do that. If there is a problem it should be discussed and resolved instead of creating rifts between religions,” the Prime Minister’s media unit quoted him as saying at an event in Kandy. However the decision drew flak from some government Muslim Ministers who insisted that the mosque had every right to operate at the previous location.The monks who protested against the mosque said that it was an illegal construction however the Premier admitted today that it was not and the mosque was at that location for some 10 years.Jayaratna warned that if rifts and clashes occur between various religions in the country that will force the government to react and in turn it will also give the international community a chance to raise allegations against the government similar to the allegations raised after the war with the LTTE. (Colombo Gazette) read more

Navy nabs 77 Australia bound people

They were escorted to the Modara Harbour to be handed over to the CID for further investigations. (Colombo Gazette) The asylum seekers are residents of Jaffna, Vavuniya, Batticaloa, Puttlam, Colombo, Udappuwa, Mannar, Chilaw and Kalpitiya. Among those on the boat were 61 Tamils, 14 Sinhalese and 02 Muslims. The navy said that there were 75 males, a woman and a child. The navy intercepted a boat carrying 77 people to Australia today 20 nautical miles off the Thoduwawa seas, the navy media unit said.According to the navy, the trawler named “Nirmani” was intercepted by a Fast Naval Patrol Craft attached to the Western Naval Command. read more

Rizanas mom rejects Saudi help

Saudi Arabia on Sunday defended the execution of the maid for the death of an infant in her care and hit back at international criticism of last week’s beheading. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia categorically rejects any interference in its affairs or in the provisions of its judiciary under any justifications,” a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency read.Human rights groups and the Sri Lankan government had lobbied for leniency in the case of Rizana Nafeek, who was convicted of killing her employers’ son in 2005. The family said she strangled the boy, Kayed bin Nayef bin Jazyan al-Otaibi, after being asked to bottle-feed him, but Nafeek said the infant accidentally choked on milk. (Colombo Gazette) The mother of Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek has refused to accept any money from Saudi Arabia or Saudi nationals, reports from Muttur said today.Saudi Arabia had offered to pay money to Rizana’s family after the maid had been executed in Saudi Arabia recently over the death of a Saudi baby in her care. However Rizana’s mother has said she will not accept any assistance from Saudi Arabia and does not want any of them coming to her house. read more

One killed 13 injured in accident

A child was killed and 13 others were injured following an accident in Kalkudah today.The police said that a tractor-trailer met with the accident along a bend near an army camp along the Kumburumulla road. The police said that 14 people including children, were injured in the accident. The trailer attached to the tractor had got dislodged at the bend with 20 people who were on the trailer. A 7 year old boy succumbed to his injuries in hospital, the police media unit said.The police said that another child who sustained serious injuries was admitted to the Batticaloa hospital for treatment. read more

Ranil urged to increase Muslim candidates

The Muslim Council urged Wickremesinghe to nominate at least three candidates to the districts of Kandy and Colombo, Two each for the districts of Kalutara, Kurunegala, Puttalam, etc. The Muslim Council says this will ensure that the majority of the Muslim votes in these areas will be cast in favour of the United National Party. (Colombo Gazette) United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has been urged to increase the number of Muslim candidates contesting the upcoming Parliament election from the United National Party (UNP).In a letter to the UNP leader, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka noted that the Muslim communities have been loyal supporters and have been voting the United National Party overwhelmingly for decades. “There is much concern amongst the community that their representation within the UNP has been reduced. This is mainly because the UNP is supposed to have made a decision to field only two Muslim candidates in predominantly Muslim dominated areas. Sir, you are well aware, the Muslim representation has been higher in the districts ofKandy, Colombo in previous governments. We are concerned that independent groups may come forward from the Muslim community and the Muslim vote could get further fragmented, thereby reducing the chances of even two members being elected from these districts,” the Muslim Council added. read more

New Sri Lankan contingent to leave for UN Peacekeeping in Lebanon

The Chief Guest of the event, Major General Piyal Wickramaratne, Colonel of the Regiment, SLSR and Commandant, Sri Lanka Army Volunteer Force (SLAVF) after inspecting it was invited to inspect the parade before the salute in the traditional Guard of Honour was taken by him from a special dais at the venue and reviewed the parade. A new Sri Lankan military contingent is set to leave for Lebanon for UN Peacekeeping operations.The customary Passing out Parade of the 12th Force Protection Company (FPC) for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL) set to leave for Lebanon was held at the Regimental Headquarters, Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment, (RHQ -SLSR) Ambepussa today. In his brief address to the troops, Major General Wickramaratne urged each and every one of the contingent to protect the country’s identity, depicting professional standards, cultural values and dignity, associated with their responsibilities in Lebanon at all times.‘You have been entrusted the most important assignment of protecting the UN Peace Keeping Headquarters in Lebanon and this has been very well done by all previous Sri Lankan contingents who went there. Your service, therefore need to be performed, maintaining highest standards of discipline because it is your conduct that reflects the quality of your profession and the Army, to which you belong,’ the Chief Guest told them. Since the year 2010, Sri Lanka Army has so far dispatched 11 such contingents to serve in Lebanon at the request of the UNIFIL. This mission was started in year 1978 and SL Army sent its 1st Contingent in year 2010. 1st SLSR contingent participated in year 2012 and this is the 2nd Contingent from SLSR. The Lebanon-bound Sri Lanka’s Force Protection Unit (SLFPU) contingent is comprised of 10 officers and 140 other rankers and has been made up of with troops from the Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment (SLSR), Sri Lanka Engineers (SLE), Sri Lanka Signal Corps (SLSC), Mechanized Infantry Regiment (MIR), Commando Regiment (CR), Special Forces (SF), Corps of Engineer Services (CES), Sri Lanka Army Service Corps (SLASC), Sri Lanka Army Medical Corps (SLAMC), Sri Lanka Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (SLEME), Sri Lanka Army Ordnance Corps (SLAOC), Sri Lanka Corps of Military Police (SLCMP) and Sri Lanka Army General Service Corps (SLAGSC).The first advance party of the SLFPU contingent (Seven Officers including the Commanding Officer and Forty Three Other Rankers) is scheduled to leave for Lebanon during the third week in February to assume duties. The contingent commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R.W.K Hewage SLSR and other troops will leave for Lebanon during 18-19 February and 6 March 2018.The SLFPU in Lebanon, responsible for security and VIP duties at the UNIFIL Force Headquarters – Naquoura controls all the access routes to the UNIFIL Headquarters and is under command to the Force Headquarters Support Unit (FHQSU) which is directly under the Force Commander. Troops first presented a Guard Turn Out upon Major General Piyal Wickramaratne’s entry into the parade premises in accordance with military traditions. Centre Commandants of troop contributing Regiments, Commanding Officers of SLSR Battalions, Staff Officers from Army Headquarters, Officers and Other Ranks of SLSR and relatives of participants were present to witness the parade. (Colombo Gazette) read more

Malik Samarawickrama resigns as UNP Chairman

The move is part of reforms taking place in the UNP.Last week UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim had resigned from his post in the party to make way for reforms in the UNP. Malik Samarawickrama has resigned as the United National Party (UNP) Chairman.Samarawickrama said that he has tendered his resignation letter to UNP leader, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. There is speculation that former Minister Imthiaz Bakeer Markar will be offered the post. (Colombo Gazette)

India and Sri Lanka Coast Guard maintain close cooperation

The Indian Coast Guard and Sri Lanka Coast Guard are maintaining close cooperation and a good relationship between them, the Ministry of Defence said today.The Ministry of Defence said that a recent visit to Sri Lanka by Director General Rajendra Singh, Director General of the Indian Coast Guard, helped heighten the bond between the two Coast Guards. Director General Rajendra Singh, Director General of the Indian Coast Guard and Rear Admiral Samantha Wimalathunghe, Director General of the Sri Lanka Coast Guard headed two delegations at the meeting. During the visit a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was also reached between two Coast Guards on the establishment of a collaborative relationship to combat transnational illegal activities at aea and develop regional cooperation between the Indian Coast Guard and Sri Lanka Coast Guard. (Colombo Gazette) Rajendra Singh was in Sri Lanka recently on an official visit during which he participated in the 3rd High Level Meeting between the Sri Lanka Coast Guard and the Indian Coast Guard in Colombo. read more

President Sirisena offers prayers at Lumbini in Nepal

President Maithripala Sirisena offered prayers at Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha today. The visiting President was accompanied by his Sri Lankan Ministers and senior officials, My Republica reported.The entourage had reached Lumbini on a chartered flight from Kathmandu. The visiting delegates were also accompanied by Nepal’s tourism minister, Rabindra Adhikari, provincial chief Umakanta Jha,  tourism minister of province-5 Lila Giri, and vice chairman of Lumbini Development Fund Monk Maiteyele. Sirisena had arrived in Kathmandu to attend the fourth BIMSTEC summit on August 29. He will return home today. (Colombo Gazette) At Lumbini, he visited the Mayadevi temple and Ashok pillar and offered rituals according to Sri Lankan traditions. Before flying back to Kathmandu, the President will visit a temple constructed by Sri Lankan monks at Lumbini. read more

Woman seriously injured by dog bite OPP look for owner

The Ontario Provincial Police are looking to speak with the owner of a dog after a woman was bit twice on the arm.The woman called police around 3:30 p.m. on Friday to report she had been bitten by a dog.The 59-year-old woman said she was walking along a trail in Norfolk County when two dogs ran up to her. One of the dogs, described as a Rottweiler weighing roughly 100 lbs, bit the victim on the arm.The owner came to the area to try and regain control of the dogs when the same dog bit the victim again.The woman suffered serious but non-life threatening injuries and was taken to hospital.Investigators are looking to speak to the owner of the Rottweiler and the other dog which is believed to be a Boxer. If anyone has information that can identify the owner, they are being asked to contact the Norfolk County OPP Detachment at 1-888-310-1122. read more

Montreal area real estate market hit record high in May but pace

MONTREAL — The Greater Montreal Real Estate Board says area home sales hit another record high for May, even though the pace of growth cooled from a year ago.The board says there were 5,303 home sales in May, up one per cent from 5,243 a year ago, based on the real estate brokers’ Centris provincial database.Last year’s numbers were revised following the addition of the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu area in the monthly surveys. Sales rose 16 per cent in May 2017 when including the region southeast of Montreal.Condominium sales climbed 14 per cent compared with a year ago. Meanwhile, sales of single-family homes were down six per cent while plexes, which include two to five units, rose four per cent.The average price of all properties in Greater Montreal increased five per cent to $373,899. They were up six per cent to $481,544 on the island of Montreal.The median price of single-family homes across Greater Montreal was $325,000 last month, up three per cent year-over-year, while plexes reached $520,000, a nine per cent increase.As for condominiums, the median price was up six per cent compared with a year ago, with half of all units selling for more than $257,000.The increase in sales came as the number of active listings fell 16 per cent to 24,501, from 29,289 a year ago. New listings fell one per cent to 6,387, compared with 6,431 in May 2017. read more

With the Bank of Canada holding interest rates … just how vulnerable

TORONTO — Equifax Canada says consumer delinquencies climbed higher in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the credit monitoring company warns that rising delinquency rates are likely to become the norm this year.It says the 90-day mortgage delinquency rate rose by 1.5 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2017 to 0.18 per cent at the end of last year.The comparable non-mortgage rate was up 0.4 per cent to 1.07 per cent.Equifax says total Canadian consumer debt including mortgages increased to nearly $1.91 trillion in the fourth quarter, up from $1.82 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2017.The average non-mortgage debt for consumers was $23,520, up three per cent compared with a year earlier.“Bankruptcies are up 15 per cent in the last half of 2018 and the small increase in delinquency rates mask some underlying weakness,” Equifax Canada vice-president Bill Johnston said in a statement.“Rising delinquency is likely to become the norm in 2019.”Equifax’s report comes the day before the Bank of Canada announces it interest rate decision. Canadians using their homes as ATMs in a swooning housing market put financial system at risk: DBRS Budget woes? FP Live experts can help with your household finances The number of Canadians finding it tough to make ends meet is going up read more

Deer carcass located at end of driveway

A deer carcass was left at the end of the driveway at a home on King Street in Tillsonburg in the early morning hours on April 9.The homeowners contacted police to report the mischief around 10 a.m. when they noticed the remains in the driveway.If anyone has any information that can assist with the investigation they are being asked to contact the Oxford County OPP detachment at 1-888-310-1122.

UN officials hail 100 million gift by Bill Melinda Gates Foundation to

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had proposed the Fund last April in Abuja, hailed the Gates Foundation’s “groundbreaking commitment,” calling it a “cornerstone of the emerging global effort to reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”Noting that HIV/AIDS is a worldwide crisis that has already killed nearly 22 million people, the Secretary-General stressed that the scourge could be defeated only through a truly global partnership, bringing together governments, corporations, foundations, civil society and individuals. “The leadership shown by Bill and Melinda Gates today will not only serve as a powerful example to other private donors and to Governments; in its own right, it will probably also save millions of lives,” he said.Echoing this view, Dr. Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, commended the Foundation, noting that its contribution demonstrated the emergence of a “diverse and international partnership — which is surely the only way we will defeat this epidemic and reverse its terrible consequences.” Dr. Piot urged additional contributors to emulate the example set by the Gates Foundation, saying he hoped the announcement “will catalyze other donors, including other private foundations, to channel major contributions to the Global Fund.”Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the importance of the Gates Foundation’s contribution far exceeded its dollar value. “It is a recognition of the scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatens individuals, families, countries and economies – and the need to build global and broad-based partnerships to address this crisis,” she said. Ms. Bellamy also expressed hope that other donors would follow the “splendid example” of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.The Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Mark Malloch Brown, said the donation signalled a new phase in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. “At a stroke, Gates has widened the constituency base of the campaign,” he said, adding that the contribution “is also a powerful signal to other foundations, businesses, non-profit groups and individuals that they can and must get involved in this epic battle.”The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, said support for the Global Fund indicated a new approach to combating the pandemic. “There is a realization that global problems need global solutions,” she said. read more

Cyprus Clerides and Denktash agree to new schedule of talks

Meeting in Nicosia, Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash reviewed the pace of their work so far and “decided that it would be more effective to have longer meetings with more time in between, so as to concentrate efforts and allow more time for preparation,” spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York. “Accordingly, as of 1 March, they will be meeting on Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings, except as otherwise agreed.” The two leaders will meet again tomorrow as earlier planned and have another meeting on Tuesday, 19 February before breaking “in light of the Bayram (Id Muslim Holiday) and for a brief reflection period,” according to Mr. Eckhard. During the break, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, will travel to New York to report to the Secretary-General and brief members of the Security Council, the spokesman reported. “Talks will resume on Friday, 1 March,” said Mr. Eckhard. read more

UN human rights body urges US to stay execution of Mexican national

The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights – the main subsidiary body of the UN Commission on Human Rights – issued a statement in Geneva on Thursday calling on US authorities “to do everything possible” to stay the 14 August execution of Javier Suárez Medina, who has been on death row in Texas for 13 years.The Sub-Commission urged the United States to re-examine the case and guarantee the suspect’s right to consular protection and a fair trial, according to the statement read out by Chairman Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.”Javier Suárez Medina was only 19 years old when he was sentenced to death, and a number of serious breaches of his right to a defence occurred during his trial,” Mr. Pinheiro said. “In particular, United States authorities did not comply with their obligations pursuant to article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 which guarantees consular assistance for foreign detainees.”The Chairman said that these obligations have been strongly reaffirmed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. He also cited a ruling last year by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which found that Washington had breached its obligations to Germany and to the LaGrand brothers – two German nationals who faced the death penalty – under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. read more

Broad coalition launches new global alliance to prevent violence – UN

“Interpersonal violence kills 1,400 people every day and causes untold injuries and suffering. This alliance is uniting a range of organizations and Member States around mutual violence prevention principles and policies and will strengthen our ability to address the problem,” Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), said of the Global Interpersonal Violence Prevention Alliance (GIVPA).The creation of this alliance comes 15 months after the worldwide launch of WHO’s world report on violence and health – the first comprehensive report of its kind to examine violence as a public health problem that causes 1.6 million deaths a year. More than 40 countries have already responded by undertaking violence prevention activities. National reports that examine specific country situations have been initiated in at least 10 others. More than 15 Governments have committed to developing a national plan of action for the prevention of violence. In addition, significant resolutions have been adopted and policy debates have been the focus of several international meetings, including those of the WHO, the African Union, the UN Commission on Human Rights and the World Medical Association. “Our shared understanding of the complex underpinnings of violence is essential to creating solutions that will prevent people from becoming victims and perpetrators,” said Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention. “GIVPA will bring together strong partners in research and data collection, training, advocacy and prevention programmes.” “The continuing high trends of violence will not be reversed without this kind of commitment to cooperation and investment in prevention,” he added. At today’s meeting, co-hosted by the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva and WHO, leading decision-makers from nearly a dozen countries will examine the progress of violence prevention efforts in the last year and determine ways to continue to turn the report’s recommendations into action. read more

Filming begins on first movie shot at UN Headquarters in New York

Video of the press conference The thriller, which stars Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman, is not intended to be a propaganda device for the UN, director Sydney Pollack and UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor said today at a joint press conference.Mr. Tharoor said the UN granted approval to The Interpreter only after senior officials studied the script and held “extensive discussions” with Mr. Pollack.He said they also signed off partly because of “our own great regard for Mr. Pollack as an artist and given his track record and experience as a film maker.”Mr. Pollack, who has also worked as a producer and actor, has directed many films, including The Way We Were (1973), Absence of Malice (1981), Tootsie (1982), Out of Africa (1985) and The Firm (1993). He won two Oscars for Out of Africa: best director and best picture.Mr. Tharoor said UN officials believe The Interpreter is “going to bring a lot of people into the movie theatres…who would not otherwise have paid much attention to this Organization.”The Director said he was attracted to the visual setting offered by the world body. “People haven’t seen what’s inside,” Mr. Pollack said. “You have tons and tons of visitors but most of the people in the United States don’t know what the UN looks like and don’t understand how the UN works and don’t know what its day-to-day business is.”The first scenes at UN Headquarters were shot last weekend. Mr. Tharoor said filming would only take place on weekends, public holidays or nights so as not to disturb the regular work of the UN. The set is closed to tourists and UN staff.Mr. Pollack predicted that shooting on the film, estimated to cost $80 million, would take 14 weeks. He also voiced hope that it would be released late November. read more

Annan informs key players of UNs intention to send team back to

Video of the press encounter [10 mins] “I have written to the Security Council and to the Iraqi Governing Council and the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] advising them that I do intend to send a team back to Baghdad, led by [Special Adviser Lakhdar] Brahimi, to work with the Iraqis on the political transitional arrangements leading to the formation of a government on June 30th,” Mr. Annan told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York today. The Secretary-General’s decision came in response to letters from the President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mohammed Bahr Al-Uloom, and CPA Administrator L. Paul Bremer, who have also requested UN assistance with the preparation of direct elections before the end of January 2005.In transmitting the letters to the President of the Security Council, the Secretary-General says he will ask Mr. Brahimi and his aides as well as an electoral assistance team to return to Iraq as soon as possible.Responding to press questions today, the Secretary-General noted that several options for the political transition are under consideration. Mr. Brahimi, he said, would discuss these widely with the Iraqis in an effort to forge a consensus on the most viable course of action.The envoy, asked about the role of the United States in backing Iraq’s request, stressed that “we are not looking for a job and we are not dying to go to Iraq, and that if the United Nations is not needed, I think that is perfect from our point of view.”At the same time, he noted that, “from everything we know, the overwhelming majority of the people of Iraq, within and outside of the Governing Council, are really demanding and pressing the United Nations to come back to play a role.”In conjunction with the anniversary of the Iraq war, Mr. Annan was asked about the world body’s relevance in helping the country. “The UN has a unique legitimacy no other organization has,” he pointed out. “The UN has a capacity of bringing countries from around the world to work together and, in fact, most governments have indicated, as much as they are interested in helping see peace and stability in Iraq, would want to do it through the UN.””That’s an affirmation of their trust and belief in the Organization,” he added. Mr. Annan also stressed the capacity of the Iraqi people to help themselves. “When we talk of the UN, we’re talking of the international community, donor community, the neighbours of Iraq, all of us coming together and working with the Iraqi people to make Iraq a peaceful, stable and democratic country.” read more

Annan hails new accords between Sudanese Government and Darfur rebels

But at the same time the UN mission in Sudan reported that police last night again raided the Al Geer refugee camp near Nyala, South Darfur destroying flimsy shacks, shooting in the air and shouting at terrified people. Due to the shots, UN agencies and partner groups were immediately withdrawn for their own safety into Nyala town.About 1.45 million people are internally displaced within Darfur, a vast area the size of France, where Janjaweed militias are accused of killing and raping thousands of villagers after rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese Government last year. Another 200,000 are living as refugees in neighbouring Chad.The Government and two rebel groups – the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – signed the Protocols on the Improvement of the Humanitarian Situation and on the Enhancement of the Security Situation in Darfur at a meeting yesterday in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.In a statement issued by his spokesman, Mr. Annan congratulated the parties on this “significant achievement” and commended the active efforts of the African Union and its current Chairman, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, in mediating the talks with the support of the UN, European Union, League of Arab States and other partners.”He is hopeful that these measures, combined with the deployment and strengthening of the expanded African Union mission, will re-establish security and stability in the region, and facilitate the safe return of the displaced and refugees to their home areas,” the statement added. “He urges the parties to intensively pursue the political negotiations and conclude an agreement without further delay.”The UN mission said Mr. Annan’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, who is on a previously arranged visit to Nyala accompanied by Sudan’s Foreign Minister, was expected to visit the raided camp as soon as possible.According to reports reaching the mission, four small truckloads of police raided the camp in the early hours of the morning following the return there of a number of refugees previously dispersed last week. Latest reports said the area had now “calmed down.” read more