December’s first week began with a bang both locally and internationally. Locally, we saw the passing of the budget while on the international front things look rather bleak for Syria.
The second reading of the 2016 Budget was passed on Wednesday (December 2) with a majority of 107 votes in Parliament, with 159 MPs voting in favour. Fifty two voted against, including some MPs in the Joint Opposition and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, while 13 other members were absent for the vote.
The Tamil National Alliance, for the first time in the recent past, voted in favour of a national budget. Amongst notable absentees was United People’s’ Freedom Alliance Kurunegala District MP and former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Fifteen days have been allocated for the Third Reading stage debate on the budget proposals and the final vote on the budget will be taken on December 19.
Right to Information Bill Approved
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe informed Parliament on Thursday (December 3) that Cabinet has approved the proposed Right to Information Bill (RTI).
The bill will allow citizens to obtain information on government and state institutions, but does not cover private information on individuals, or information that could harm the state.
Government Seeks Clemency
In a last minute bid to save a 45 year old Sri Lankan mother of three from being “stoned to death” for adultery in Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera met the Saudi Charge d’Affaires here, and sought “clemency” for her.
Although there was speculation that the death sentence would be carried out today, latest reports have dismissed this, while the exact date of the sentencing is yet to be known.
A Dawadmi court in Riyadh had sentenced the un-named woman to be stoned to death, while her unmarried Lankan paramour was sentenced to 100 lashes for “fornication”. In the light of this harsh sentencing, the appointment of Saudi Arabia to Chair the UN Human Rights Council has received much criticism.
Doctors on Strike
The Government Medical Officer’s Association (GMOA), along with 17 other trade unions and professional associations, commenced an island wide strike on Thursday (December 3).
The strike was in protest of the government’s decision to abolish the doctor’s pension scheme, and the cancellation of the duty concession on vehicle permits.
The strike did not involve emergency services personnel, and was supported by all hospitals islandwide.
However, the strike was called off in less than 24 hours after PM Wickremesinghe proposed that public sector officials will be given concessionary duty free vehicle permits once in 10 years.
Wassim Thajudeen Murder Case
The death of ruggerite Wassim Thajudeen was confirmed a homicide in the final report submitted to Court on Thursday by a board of medical officers.
According to this report, the victim had not been driving at the time of the accident, and his body had been transferred to the driver’s seat after being assaulted. The report also states that the cause of death was the result of multiple injuries to the victim’s legs, neck and chest. The car had caught on fire after the death of the victim, or a few minutes prior to his death.
Thajudeen’s burnt body was found in a vehicle near the Shalika Grounds in Narahenpita, on May 17, 2012. His death was at the time declared an accident by the police. However, after the massive uproar of a cover-up conspiracy, which involved the previous government, police investigations recommenced this year.
Road Violations Continue Despite Legal Action
Legal action has been taken against 13,095 motorists for violating lane regulations that were implemented last week.
These individuals who are facing legal action include 7,874 charged with negligent driving violating the lane law, 1,936 charged with not driving on the left side of the road, and 3,285 charged with illegal parking. The strict monitoring of lane laws is expected to continue for several weeks.
India: Chennai Under Water
Tamil Nadu’s capital city Chennai is in dire straits following floods that have killed up to 270 people, and wreaked havoc across the city. The floods occurred following the heaviest rains in over a century.
Military personnel were deployed to help people, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday announced an aid package of Rs. 1000 crore, in addition to previous relief allocations.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Airlines cancelled flights to Chennai, since the Chennai airport was also badly flooded.
UK: Britain Launches Airstrikes on Syria Hours After Vote
British fighter jets carried out their first airstrike on Syria Thursday morning. The strikes were conducted hours after Britain’s parliament voted last Wednesday to launch bombing raids against the Islamic State in Syria, supporting Prime Minister David Cameron’s case that Britain needs to help destroy the ISIS militants.
After more than 10 hours of tense debate, lawmakers voted in favour of airstrikes, by 397 to 223.
Given Britain’s diminished role on the world stage, the victory hands Cameron the chance to restore Britain’s standing in global affairs. He had urged lawmakers not to turn their back on allies such as France in their time of need.
Many British voters are wary of being dragged into another war in the Middle East, which led to several protests outside of Birmingham and Manchester.
United States: San Bernardino Shooting
Police are searching for up to three gunmen who killed at least 14 people at a social services centre in San Bernardino, California.
Officers said there were also 17 wounded in the attack at the Inland Regional Center, which helps adults with disabilities.The gunmen, wearing military-style clothing, entered the building and opened fire before fleeing in a black SUV.
Witnesses said people locked themselves in offices as the gunfire rang out.
South Africa: Oscar Pistorius convicted of murder
Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, 27, was found guilty of murder after a South African appeals court overturned an earlier manslaughter verdict.
He killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013, after shooting her four times through a locked door. He is currently under house arrest after spending a year of his five-year sentence in jail.
Pistorius will now have to return to court for a new sentence to be decided.