Security issue ignites the House ..
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By Saman Indrajith
A row broke out in Parliament yesterday leading to the suspension of sittings and sending several MPs to parliament medical room after the government had turned down a Joint Opposition request to reverse its decision to reduce the security provided to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Several MPs including UNP Kegalle District MP Sandith Samarasinghe were injured. He was rushed to the National Hospital subsequently.
Parliament was plunged into chaos when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to respond to a question raised by Joint Opposition about the reduction of security provided to the former President.
At the commencement of sittings soon after the Speaker’s announcements and presentation of Public Petitions, MEP
Leader Dinesh Gunawardena said that the army commandos specialised in VIP security attached to the security contingent of former President Rajapaksa had been taken away. “He is the President who fought valiantly against the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world.
Threats to his life still remain as the remaining LTTE cadres are hell-bent on avenging their losses. When we raised this matter in this House sometime back the Leader of the House pledged that the government would not do so. Now, what we feared has happened. We need to know from the Prime Minister whether the government will reverse its decision.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: “We are all for the safety of the former President. We need to save him as it is thanks to him that we came to power. He cannot put in the harm’s way for we need him to stay alive so that we can stay in power. He helped me reach this position. On the night of the election he handed over the country to me.
“With regard to safety of politicians, the Security Council recently took a decision to deploy only policemen. We are ready to increase the number of policemen or to provide STF commandos for the security of the former President. Police VIP security is provided to all former leaders in the world. For example, former heads of state including George Bush and Tony Blair, who face threats from the ISIS terrorists, are provided police security. Situation is the same in India. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, too, has been provided with police security. The incumbent President and I have police security. Now, we have come to know that some army men worked in the security team of the former President were not even properly trained.
“The former President is not the only person who was instrumental in ending terrorism. Hasn’t Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, too, contributed to that? Do you remember the way you responded to us then when we raised the matter of reducing his security when we were in the Opposition?
I am willing to increase the number of policemen or to provide STF security to the former President. I am not thorough with technical aspects of VIP security issues and will like to invite Field Marshal Fonseka to explain the matter in detail.”
When the Field Marshal started to read out from a sheet of paper the members of the Joint Opposition got up from their seats and protested demanding that Prime Minister should not pass the responsibility to a junior minister for the issue of security of former President was a serious matter. The Joint Opposition MPs led by MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena invaded the Well and moved towards the Chair. Sergeant-at-arms Anil Parakrama Samarasekera and his deputy Narendra Fernando walked to the Mace to prevent the protesters from grabbing it.
Amidst the protest Field Marshal Fonseka continued to read out his statement but only parts of his speech were audible. “Captain Neville, who had been detailed for the security of former president, did not have any sort of training in VIP security. He was just one of the henchmen who did dirty work for Rajapaksa. Neville has not even completed officer training programmes he should have undergone prescribed for his rank … Rajapaksa should have remained the former President. Instead he chose to become an MP and should now satisfy with privileges provided to an MP (inaudible).
At this point the Joint Opposition MPs shouted “Vel Vidane…Vel Vidane…Vel Vidane…” drowning Field Marshal’s voice.
Other Opposition MPs including those of the JVP were seen taking pictures of the chaos while the PM remained engrossed in reading a file.
UNP backbenchers came to the front and stood around the Prime Minister.
As MPs of both sides got to the Well and in the melee, UPFA MP from Kelaniya Prasanna Ranaweera was seen raising his hand against Kalutara District UNP Palitha Thevarapperuma, who took the blow squarely and retaliated. Kalutara District UPFA MP Piyal Nishantha rushed to the scene and threw punches at MP Thevarapperuma. As fracas continued everyone was rushing to the centre several MPs fell down. Colombo District UNP MPs Marikkar fell down but was pushed out from the melee by several others but Kegalle District MP Samarasinghe was not that fortunate; he was seen rolling on the Well to avoid kicks from the Opposition MPs. Colombo District MP Mujibur Rahuman was complaining that he had been assaulted. MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena shouted at Chair: “Speaker, we asked for a response from the Prime Minister not from his watcher.”
As pandemonium prevailed Deputy Secretary General Neil Iddawela was seen suggesting to the Speaker that session be suspended.
The Speaker announced that sittings suspended for five minutes and the Prime Minister left the chamber. The MPs Bandula Gunawardena, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Sriyani Wijewickrama were seen trying stop the clash. UNP Members Sagala Ratnayake and Malik Samarawickrama were seen negotiating with opposition MPs Udaya Gammanpila, Prasanna Ranatunga, Niroshan Premaratne, Salinda Dissanayake, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, CB Ratnayake, Gamini Lokuge, Johnston Fernando, Ranjith Zoysa, Chandrasiri Gajadheera, DV Chanaka, Uditha Lokubandara, Namal Rajapaksa and Weerakumara Dissanayake.
Sittings commenced about one and a half hours later around 3.00 pm and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya after making a special statement adjourned the House.