It has been the practice of President Mahinda Rajapaksa hitherto to hold his Cabinet meetings at Temple Trees. But after the recent Cabinet re-shuffle he decided to have it at the Presidential Secretariat last Wednesday. This was because the new Cabinet is enormous and Temple Trees Hall where it is usually held was not adequate to accommodate all. Mahinda Rajapaksa attended the first cabinet meeting following the re-shuffle after having listened to all the gossip, tales about others told to him and the stories woven around his London tour fiasco.
Those who sneaked to him on others had told him that the organiser of his London tour Sajin Vaas Gunewardena, the Galle District MP, is the target of vicious criticism among the ministers and government MPs who are having discussions in dark corridors regarding his tour. Amidst these accusations, Vaas himself had made a complaint to the President that when JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake accused him in Parliament for being responsible for the failure of the President’s London tour, the ministers and government MPs did not defend him. Dissanayake had made a hard hitting speech against the tour and praised Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris saying that he has high regard for him, but unfortunately, today, Peiris is unable to perform his duties because of the interference of Sajin Vaas.
Sajin then began obstructing Dissanayake’s speech and at this provocation, Dissanayake alleged that it was Vaas who had encouraged the President on the tour and finally let him down. Dissanayake went on to castigate Vaas for encouraging the President to go on the tour contrary to the advice of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Britain. Though Vaas was yelling out in self defense, no other minister or MP stood up to support him and Vaas had complained about this to the President later.
As though to add fuel to fire, a weekend Sinhala newspaper too had pinned the entire blame on Vaas. To the President’s consternation, he had come to know that this news had been released to the newspaper by a group within the government. Rajapaksa who attended the Cabinet meeting with his head ‘reeling’ from listening to all these tales and complaints began by saying, ‘‘A national newspaper had reported various stories. All these are erroneous. I believe that as ministers, all of you must know what truly occurred."
“I received an invitation from the Oxford Union. On an earlier occasion too I was invited and I responded to it. On this current tour it was my intention to communicate to the world via my address to the Oxford Union how communal harmony can be accomplished in Sri Lanka and I thought the Oxford Union would have been a splendid forum to do this. The Oxford Union President who invited me was scheduled to relinquish his post on 4th December . It was during those final days of his term that I received his invitation. I accepted the invitation and toured the UK. I was to deliver my lecture on the 2nd of December, but on the 1st of December I was informed that my lecture had been cancelled. This was ludicrous. Had I become aware of this earlier I would not have undertaken this tour.
“ After this intimation of cancellation, another team of the Oxford Union came and met me. Among them was the new president of the Union who was to take over duties on the 4th. He suggested that if I could stay on for three or four days more he would make arrangements for me to deliver my speech after he takes over duties. Had I heeded his request I believe I would have voluntarily walked into deep trouble. By that time, the LTTE Diaspora had gone to courts to take out a warrant to arrest the former army officer who had gone with me. I therefore decided to return to Sri Lanka as swiftly as possible. The President of the Oxford Union cancelled this lecture at the instigation of the Tamil Tiger Diaspora.’’
At this point G.L. Peiris asked him whether to issue the letter of invitation from the Oxford Union and the cancellation letter to the media. The President after agreeing to this, continued with his speech, ‘‘I wish to emphasise one thing. The British government accorded me the maximum security. My plane was to stop at Terminal Four, but for my sake they stopped at Terminal Five and summoned all the security vehicles to the tarmac and whisked me away under a heavy security blanket. The protests were being staged at Terminal Four. Had I arrived at Terminal Four I would have had to confront serious problems. We must express our profuse gratitude to the British government for these arrangements.”
“However the British High Commission conducted itself in a most untoward manner. When I included Minister Douglas Devananda in my delegation his visa was refused. Even the issue of visas to my security division was deliberately delayed and consequently my flight got delayed. The British High Commission did not give recognition to the fact that the President of the State was traveling. I know how the British High Commission treats our Sinhala children when they seek visas to study abroad. Those children whom I met in London complained about the harassment meted out to their parents by the High Commission when they request visas to visit their children. But they issue visas without any hesitation to those who are trying to attend meetings of the Tamil Diaspora. If Devananda had requested the visa to attend a Tamil Diaspora meeting they would have gladly granted it.’’
When the President made all these remarks critical of the British High Commission he did not however utter a word about the harassment and embarrassment that were caused to their High Commission in Colombo when his ministers staged violent demonstrations in front of it hurling rotten eggs and tomatoes. Mahinda Rajapaksa then turned his vituperative speech in the direction of UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and NSSP Leader Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne whom he made scapegoats for his ‘catastrophic’ tour .
‘‘I met a lady from the media by the name of Rajeswari Balasubramaniam in London. She asked me whether I was not aware that Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena and Dr. Wickremabahu Karunaratne came to London and held a series of meetings with the Tamil Tiger leaders. These are the people who advised the Tamil Tiger leaders and the Tamil Diaspora leaders to hold demonstrations and protests on your arrival there. ‘These are the people who have incited them’, she declared. It was then and only then that I came to know of the involvements of these two individuals in the protests,” the President said.
It was clear that Mahinda made this announcement in order to justify the attacks launched on Dr. Jayawardena in Parliament and on Dr. Karunaratne at the airport. Later on, a minister wished to know the view of Rajapaksa on Karu Jayasuriya’s statement published in a weekend English newspaper wherein he had recommended that an investigation into alleged war crimes be conducted. In response to this the President said, “I know Karu’s capacity. He is incapable of issuing such statements. It is Mangala Samaraweera, the UNP MP who is behind all this. Today, Karu is a captive of Mangala and his team.
Mangala is hatching conspiracies using Karu as a shield. I am also aware that behind Mangala and his team there is a huge Tamil lobby. This is the group which is running websites to undermine the forces and tarnish the image of the country. We have started investigations into this. We are bound to expose the ghosts of the LTTE hovering around the country.” He then unleashed his fury on Karu and Mangala who were next on his hit list.
After the cabinet meeting was over, Rajapaksa had a separate discussion with Ministers Dinesh Gunawardena, Wimal Weerawansa and Susil Premajayantha. This discussion focused on how to weaken the opposition inside Parliament. From all this it became obvious that the President was at the bottom of all the attacks launched against Dr. Jayawardena, Dr. Karunaratne and the mudslinging against Karu Jayasuriya. At any rate the ministers who were leaving the cabinet meeting made a parting shot that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s speech was fully oriented towards searching for scapegoats for his flopped UK tour and an attempt to defend those who organised it and inspired him.
Minister Basil Rajapaksa playing an uncharacteristically silent role during the sessions caught the attention of the other ministers and that became the topic of their conversation thereafter. Sources close to Basil disclosed that three days before the President embarked on his tour he had discussions with Basil and asked him for his opinion about it.
Basil had also advised him against making the tour pointing out that this is not an opportune moment to address the Oxford Union adding that he too had received invitations to tour Europe but had postponed them because the Tamil Diaspora is violent and very active these days. But the President had rejected his advice explaining that keeping away from the tour could be interpreted by the Tamil Diaspora as a defeat inflicted on him. Basil had however advised his brother to re-consider his decision.
The SLFP Union London branch is taking measures to probe conclusively as to who were the culprits responsible for the President’s tour. They had discovered that about a month ago Sajin Vaas had come to London in advance on a fact finding tour to make a study of the situation there along with two of the President’s security division chiefs, DIG Wickremesinghe and SP Tuduwatte. Two reports were compiled based on their tour. One advised Mahinda Rajapaksa not to undertake the London tour as it was ‘untimely.’ It is learned that the London Branch Union has requested the President to find out who suppressed that report. - courtesy: The Sunday Leader -