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Ranil blames private media station for inciting arson attack on home

12 Jul 2022

  • Points finger at Rauff Hakeem for mis-tweeting his stance on resignation as PM
  • Laments loss of only house, precious library, art; says ‘only fascist Hitler types destroy houses like this’
  • SSP Liyanage interdicted over attacks on journos and failure to prevent arson 
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe claimed yesterday (11) that it was a private media channel that allegedly manipulated his statements last Saturday (9), which ultimately led to his private residence at Fifth Lane, Colombo 3, coming under an arson attack.  “At the party leaders’ meeting on 9 July, I spoke through Zoom technology. There were a number of proposals and everyone agreed that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should resign and that an all-party Government should be formed. There, the Opposition said that the President and I, as the Prime Minister, should resign and that Speaker of the Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should take over. The Government side stayed silent and said that they would announce their decision later. Then, I spoke and said that since this will be a long process, the President should resign, then an interim Government should be formed, and that then I will be ready to resign, and that thereafter, the Parliament can decide who the President should be. There was debate about this and I held my position because there is work to be done on these two days with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and for finding fuel and food.  “Before this was finished, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Rauff Hakeem had tweeted that I was opposed to this. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Spokesman MP M.A. Sumanthiran PC asked me why I am reluctant to resign. I said that I am willing to resign, but that I should do so after a Government is formed. He told me that he did not release this information outside,” said Wickremesinghe in a special statement made in this regard yesterday.   Last Saturday (9), hundreds of thousands of people descended upon the “GotaGoGama” protest site at the Galle Face Green, where they ultimately took over the Presidential Secretariat, the official residence of the President, and the Temple Trees, the latter being the official residence of the Prime Minister. The three buildings remain occupied. Later that night, protestors were tear gassed outside the private residence of Wickremesinghe at Fifth Lane, while 10 journalists attached to two private media organisations were also assaulted by Special Task Force (STF) personnel. The fire started shortly afterwards.  “But this tweet (by Hakeem) went to a private media channel. That channel gave it publicity and other media also gave it publicity. Then, I made a special statement that I am ready to give power to an all-party Government. Other media publicised it and that conversation finished there. But one particular media channel kept talking about it and manipulated what I said. I sent two more statements after that and I called their Head thrice, and told them not to do that, and even said that our houses were at risk of being burnt.  “However, they did not stop. Then, a crowd gathered near my house and they were tear-gassed. Then, another tear gas attack happened, and one journalist from that channel fell, and they said that he was attacked. We expressed our regret. If there was an attack, an investigation should have happened. Instead of that, they said ‘come there, come there’, and even showed the roads leading to the house. Then they said, ‘come here, the Police cannot stop, we have taken legal advice’,” continued Wickremesinghe.  Wickremesinghe said that the Police had then hit the crowds with batons and led tear gas attacks, but stopped short of shooting people.  “They came and burnt the house. Not just my house; the Presidential Secretariat, the Presidential Residence, and the Temple Trees have all been taken over and all documents are lost now. A Government must work according to the law and within the Constitution. The Parliament cannot work outside of it either. I am here to protect the Constitution and listen to the people through it. We need an all-party Government now and we will work to build it,” he said.  Video footage shows the attacks on four journalists attached to one media organisation, with one female reporter shown to be pleading with the officer hitting her head. Video footage further reveals that Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) R.A. Liyanage gave orders that night. Reportedly, SSP Liyanage was interdicted yesterday over the attacks and for failing to prevent the attacks. “I accepted the Premiership because the economy was falling, the people were suffering, losing their jobs, and the cost of living was rising with no fuel and foreign exchange. I had not seen such suffering before. That is why I became the Prime Minister. You cannot fix the economy in two days; a year is needed for the first steps, and four years for the recovery, according to the IMF. When I took up the job too, these problems were there. We have huge problems and we need to face them. They will get bigger in these months. I know the suffering of the people and I have apologised for it. We need to move forward together.  “On 9 July, I postponed my meetings and stayed at home in the afternoon. During the evening, the Police said that people were passing my house, and that they may yell at me, and to therefore leave my home. So my wife and I left the house. Only then was my house burnt. I only had one house. My biggest treasure was my library. There were 2,500 books. Some books were copies signed by their authors, like a book by American diplomat Henry Kissinger. I cannot keep them forever. Maithree (a reference to his wife, academic Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe) and I agreed to donate them to libraries – some to Royal College, some to the Peradeniya University and some to an institute. We had separated and kept them.  “I had paintings, including 200-year-old paintings, some commissioned when the British first landed in Sri Lanka. Only one is remaining from the Dutch period that shows King Wimaladharmasuriya meeting Dutch ambassadors. I had the thripitakaya, books about Buddhism. I had 15 special Buddha statues. I had Buddhist paintings. All of those are lost now and completely destroyed. Only fascist Hitler types destroy houses like this,” said Wickremesinghe.

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