President deplores forcible use of students in demos

President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday expressed his dismay and revulsion at the forcible use of innocent university students to further the political aims of certain organisations during an election period.

Addressing journalists at the President’s House in Colombo, President Sirisena said the exploitation of freedom and democracy by certain organisations to coerce university students to participate in processions and demonstrations should be condemned by all. Students who refuse to take part are harassed and intimidated.

“This is not especially conducive in an election environment where we are committed to hold a 100 percent free and fair poll. And the behaviour of certain Bhikkus at these processions and demonstrations will give a bad name to Buddhists and Buddhism in the eyes of the international community. This is shameful,” the President added.

Referring to SAITM, the President said the said organisation has been abolished, even though politically motivated protests still continue. “We went to the furthest extent possible. We treat all children equally. Dr. Harsha De Silva made a great effort to work out a viable solution.”

The President stressed the need for a peaceful environment to hold the February 10 Local Government election, which he noted is the first such election to be held islandwide simultaneously after the termination of the conflict in 2009.

However, he said serious doubts have arisen on the viability of counting votes at the polling centres themselves in terms of providing adequate security. This was done for the last time in 1969.

Society has changed vastly since then and there could be problems when counting votes at polling centres.

“I requested the Elections Commission to rethink this and do it in a more secure way. Police have no manpower to handle this operation. This should be done at a more central location where adequate security can be provided,” he said. 

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