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U.S. and Sri Lankan film professionals identify ways to expand Sri Lankan movie industry

U.S. experts joined four Sri Lankan film professionals in a panel discussion about how effective film distribution benefits Sri Lanka’s movie industry, artists, and audiences on March 30 at Hatch, a workplace for entrepreneurs. 

Speaking at the event, U.S. Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz said. “One of our core beliefs is freedom of speech, and movies are one of the most powerful ways that we can share our stories with each other.  Strong and transparent laws that protect film distribution will ensure that Sri Lankan creatives will drive economic growth, are paid fairly, and can share Sri Lanka’s stories with the world.”

Representing Film Independent, America’s premiere organization for independent moviemaking, entertainment lawyer Michael Donaldson and Global Media Makers Senior Program Manager Shari Page emphasized how film distribution is a key channel for storytellers to reach their audiences.  Moderated by Jaffna International Film Festival Director Anoma Rajakaruna, the panel included filmmaker Boodiee Keerthisena, a representative of Ceylon Theatres, and Chairman of Scope Cinemas Naveed Cader.  Following the panel, participants and audience members gathered for a networking event at Commons Café. 

Film Independent is a non-profit organization aimed at helping filmmakers create movies, build audiences, and diversify the film industry. An expert on intellectual property rights laws, Mr. Donaldson is an award-winning author whose books on clearance and copyright are used in over 50 film schools.  Ms. Page has worked as a casting associate and producer for over 27 productions including the Golden Globe winning series “Californication” for Showtime. Mr. Donaldson and Ms. Page are in Sri Lanka as part of the Global Media Makers program, an innovative mentoring initiative and cultural exchange program designed to foster relationships between American filmmakers and industry professionals with international social issue filmmakers.

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118 new ambulances distributed to hospitals across the country

118 new ambulances were distributed to hospitals across the country at an event held at the Colombo Municipal Council grounds under the patronage of the Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Dr Rajitha Senaratne, today (11). 

The distribution of ambulances was the continuation of a programme to distribute a total of 450 brand new Ford and Mercedes Benz ambulances to hospitals through out the country.

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Mangala meets UN Secretary General in New York

Minister of Finance Mangala Samaraweera who is in New York to represent Sri Lanka at the Financing for Development Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) called on the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres on 16 April 2019. 

At the meeting, the Secretary-General recalled his visits to Sri Lanka in the past including his first visit in 1978. Stating that he was impressed by the peaceful resolution of the recent political crisis in Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General reaffirmed the commitment of the United Nations to continue to support the people of Sri Lanka including in the reconciliation and sustainable development agenda.

Meeting with UNICEF Executive Director

Samaraweera also held discussions with the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta H. Fore on the sidelines of the ECOSOC forum in New York on 16th of April. They discussed matters related to financing for Early Childhood Development (ECD).

ED UNICEF

The Finance Minister said that studies across the world have proved that children who participate in ECD programmes attain higher earnings and the childcare facilities initiative that was introduced via Budget 2019 will be a first step in promoting quality services for the early childhood stage.

Samaraweera shares Sri Lanka’s experience in inclusive growth at ECOSOC forum

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera is representing Sri Lanka at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Forum on Financing for Development (FfD) convened by the President of ECOSOC, Inga Rhonda King, at the latter’s invitation.

Participating in the Ministerial Financial Dialogue Panel Discussion on ‘Promoting Inclusive Growth Reducing Inequalities’ on 15 April, the Minister shared with the FfD, measures taken in Sri Lanka towards this end, including details of the ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka’ concessionary loan scheme which was launched in mid-2018 with the objective of creating 100,000 young entrepreneurs especially in the villages. 

PD 2Addressing the General Debate of the FfD on 16 April, Minister Samaraweera explained some of the measures taken by Sri Lanka including in the 2019 budget to address identified challenges in sustainable and equitable development. 

Stating that financial commitments are increasingly challenging for countries like Sri Lanka that are subject to significant fiscal constraints, the Minister emphasised the need for international cooperation including for supporting measures to prevent and mitigate the debilitating impacts of climate change in vulnerable economies. 

The Minister urged for greater public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives globally, to ensure the successful achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) so that no one is left behind.

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Sri Lanka to launch integrated tourism digital plan

Sri Lanka on Thursday approved a proposal to launch an integrated tourism digital plan to boost the number of arrivals to the island nation.

Sri Lanka's tourism industry is targeting 3 million tourists by the end of the year with a revenue of $5 billion this year. So far this year, Sri Lanka has attracted 740,000 tourists.

Following a proposal by Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs, John Amaratunga, under the plan, an estimated $1.95 million will be invested to further develop the tourism industry and improve Sri Lanka's security image globally, reports Xinhua news agency.

The tourism ministry, in a statement, said this investment would be mainly focused on five high tourism arrival markets,-- India, China, Britain, Germany and France.

Another key objective under this programme is to increase average spending of tourists per day to $210 and increase the employment within the tourism industry to reach 600,000 by the end of 2020.

In addition, steps will also be taken to increase security for tourists travelling to Sri Lanka and to coordinate more joint synergies among airlines flying to Sri Lanka.Measures will also be taken to provide better experiences for tourists.

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Madush's cousin, five others arrested at BIA

Nilan Romesh Samarasinghe, a cousin of Makandure Madush, together with five other suspects who were arrested in Dubai with the drug kingpin were deported to Sri Lanka last night.

Mohamed Riyaz, Gayan Perera, Mohamed Jabeer, Suresh Ranasinghe and Rupasinghe Hewage arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) at 4.45 a.m. today (17), aboard UL 226, the Police spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that they were arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department at the BIA for further questioning this morning.

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Police arrest Julian Assange at Ecuadorian embassy in London

Police entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London Thursday morning, arresting Julian Assange and bringing the WikiLeaks founder's seven-year stint there to a dramatic close.

Metropolitan Police said in a statement that he was "further arrested" on his arrival at a London police station on behalf of United States authorities, who have issued an extradition warrant.

The UK Home Office confirmed the extradition request in a statement, adding, "He is accused in the United States of America of computer related offences."Officers made the initial move to arrest Arrange after Ecuador withdrew his asylum and invited authorities into the embassy, citing the Australian's bad behavior.

Assange was initially detained for "failing to surrender to the court" over a warrant issued in 2012 and was in custody at a central London police station, police said.

He will appear before Westminster Magistrates' Court in London as soon as is possible, police added. 

The whistleblower has been holed up at the embassy, yards from the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, since 2012, when he was granted asylum as part of a bid to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was facing allegations of sexual assault.

The Swedish case has since been dropped, but Assange feared US extradition due to his work with WikiLeaks and remained in the embassy. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno said in a video statement Thursday that his country withdrew Assange's asylum due to his "discourteous and aggressive behaviour," "the hostile and threatening declarations of his allied organisation against Ecuador" and "the transgression of international treaties."

Assange "violated the norm of not intervening in internal affairs of other states," Moreno said. "The most recent incident occurred in January 2019, when WikiLeaks leaked Vatican documents. Key members of that organisation visited Mr Assange before and after such illegal acts," he added.

In July 2016, WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 emails from Democratic National Committee staffers that appeared to show the committee favoring presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the US presidential primary.

Assange then told CNN's Anderson Cooper that the email release was timed to coincide with the start of the Democratic National Convention. A US court filing in November 2018 inadvertently revealed US government efforts to criminally charge Assange.

Alan Duncan, the British Foreign Office's Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, thanked Ecuador for lifting Assange's asylum.

"It is absolutely right that Assange will face justice in the proper way in the UK. It is for the courts to decide what happens next," Duncan said in a statement.

"We are very grateful to the Government of Ecuador under President Moreno for the action they have taken," the statement continued.

"Today's events follow extensive dialogue between our two countries."

On April 4, WikiLeaks tweeted from its verified account, "BREAKING: A high level source within the Ecuadorian state has told @WikiLeaks that Julian Assange will be expelled within "hours to days" using the #INAPapers offshore scandal as a pretext--and that it already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest."

In a statement released Friday, Assange's own legal team said that expelling him from the embassy would "violate international refugee law."
"It will be a sad day for democracy if the UK and Ecuadorean governments are willing to act as accomplices to the Trump administration's determination to prosecute a publisher for publishing truthful information," the statement read.

The Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry denied the rumors in a statement, calling them "fake news" and adding that the allegation of a deal with the UK "misrepresents reality."

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Rs.8.7 billion Saudi loan for new medical faculty at Sabaragamuva University 

The Saudi Arabian government has agreed to provide a concessional loan of 187.5 million Saudi Riyal (SAR), around Rs. 8.7 billion, for a project to establish a fully equipped Faculty of Medicine in the Sabaragamuwa University at Ratnapura.  

This Project is to be launched with the aim of constructing the essentially needed infrastructure facilities and to provide the students with the state of the art teaching and learning facilities (laboratory and other equipment) that would facilitate in providing the students with world-class medical education by constructing the Faculty of Medicine at the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka. 

This programme will contribute to the government policy of augmenting the opportunities for higher education in the field of medicine in Sri Lanka.

A delegation headed by the secretary to the ministry of finance Dr. R.H.S. Samaratunga, secretary to ministry of higher education Priyantha Mayadunne and the director general of the external resources department Priyantha Rathnayake recently visited Riyadh from the 6th to 9th April 2019 for negotiation in this regard.

They held discussions with the delegation of Saudi Fund for Development headed by Mohammed Aldolailan, acting director general, operations department and advisor to the SFD.

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Mangala Yapa appointed as new BOI Chairman

Mangala P.B. Yapa was appointed as the Chairman of Board of Investment  (BOI) by president Maithripala Sirisena, the President’s Media Division said.

Yapa received his letter of appointment from president Sirisena at the latter's official residence this morning.

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President Sirisena visits Tirumala shrine

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Wednesday offered prayers at the famous hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala, India.

Accompanied by wife Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari, other family members and some government officials, Sirisena arrived here from Hyderabad on Tuesday.

After an overnight stay at the TTD guest house on the hills, he visited the temple at the crack of dawn and offered prayers to the presiding deity, Lord Venkateswara. He spent about half an hour at the shrine, a temple official said.

After paying obeisance, the island nation's President was presented with a sacred silk cloth, a framed photo of Lord Venkateswara besides 'prasadam' by the officials of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), which governs the ancient hill temple.

Before leaving the temple, the priests at Sri Ranganayakula Mandapam, blessed him. Sirisena would leave for Bangalore to fly back to Colombo, the official added.

Earlier, he had visited the holy hills in August 2016 and February 2015.(PTI)

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PM to head ministerial committee to resolve power issue

A five-member ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed to resolve the current power crisis.

Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Ravi Karunanayake, Kabir Hashim and Sagala Ratnayaka round up the five member committee.

The committee was appointed to provide recommendations with regard to short-term, mid-term and long-term measures on resolving the crisis.

The proposal to establish a committee was put forward by Power and Energy Minister Ravi Karunanayake which was approved by the cabinet.

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Bank lending rates will be reduced to strengthen SME sector: PM

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said bank interest rates will be reduced to strengthen the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector.

The Prime Minister addressing the media at Temple Trees yesterday said the Monetary Board will issue the relevant guidelines and directives in this regard by next week. Accordingly, it has been proposed to reduce lending rates by about 200 basis points.

“In view of the various submissions made by the private sector, especially by the SME sector that lending rates are very high and access to credit is difficult since banks are reluctant to provide temporary overdraft (TODs), the members of the Monetary Board, CEOs of the banks and the representatives of the Institute of Chartered Accountants were invited to a meeting to propose means of addressing these issues,” the Prime Minister said.

A working group comprising a Monetary Board Member, representatives of the banks and the Institute of Chartered Accountants was appointed to submit suggestions to address these specific issues.

“The main aim of these proposals is to ensure that the lending rates across the system reduce in an equitable manner by about 200 basis points instead of only benefitting the major corporate sector. Although no interest rate caps on lending, has been proposed by the working group at this stage, the need for it will be reviewed if the intended reductions do not take place expeditiously” the Prime Minister added.

With these measures it is hoped that SMEs will be developed parallel to the reduction of interest rates. Accordingly, it has been proposed to introduce some limitations to the interest for depositors, the Prime Minister said.

A discussion was held with financial sector officials, Finance Ministry officers and Economic Affairs Ministry officers and with Minister Malik Samarawickreme aiming to seek measures to reduce bank interest rates.”We are going to take decisions in accordance with the report we received in this regard,”the PM said.

The Prime Minister said that it is difficult to develop entrepreneurs and business entities as a result of high loan burden. According to the Prime Minister the country’s economy lost US$ 1,000 million during the 51 day rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

“Even though we hoped to reduce interest rates last year, due to the 51 day political crisis, it couldn’t be achieved as the country lost US$ 1,000 million. Due to the losing of US$ 1,000 million.We couldn’t achieve the target but we are in a position to reduce it now,” the PM added.

He further said that all these measures are taken while giving priority to secure the stability of the country’s economy.He added that necessary amendments are done after monitoring this process after about six weeks period.

The following recommendations have been made by the working group including imposing deposit interest rate caps on banks and revise the basis for determining the existing caps on finance companies, providing the banks the ability to define their credit policies to enable advances up to Rs.25 mn granted to the SME sector to be handled in a manner that will provide flexibility to banks to reduce the expected loss impairment charge arising from IFRS 9 for a period up to June 2020 during which time the banks will be required to validate their internal models. 

In particular, the banks could have internal policies setting out the criteria for granting and extending TODs so that a mere extension of the facility would not require it to be treated as impaired if there are sufficient underline business reasons for the extension, permit deposits up to Rs.250 million from SMEs (instead of the present limit of Rs.50 mn) to be treated in a manner that will reduce the liquidity requirements required under the liquidity coverage ratio and the banks to design a revolving working capital product for SMEs to replace the TDOs and introduce risk-based pricing instead of applying the unauthorised OD rates.

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Severe dry weather in Sri Lanka affects over 321,000

(IANS) - Sri Lanka's Disaster Management Centre on Tuesday said that the number of people affected by the severe dry weather conditions prevailing across the island country had risen to over 321,000.

The worst affected districts were Vavuniya and Jaffna in the north, Puttalam in the North Western province and Kegalle in the Sabaragamuwa Province.

The Disaster Management Centre said the lack of rains, especially in the mountainous areas, resulted in a severe water shortage.

Authorities said that they were continuing to send water bowsers into the areas to supply fresh water to the affected families.

The Meteorology Department said hot weather conditions were likely to rise further in the coming days.

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