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Protests continue, worried UN shuts office

The United Nations offices in Colombo were shut down indefinitely from Wednesday and its staffers advised to work from home as protests led by a minister and close ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued for the second day

world Updated: Jul 07, 2010 17:55 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The United Nations offices in Colombo were shut down indefinitely from Wednesday and its staffers advised to work from home as protests led by a minister and close ally of President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued for the second day.

On Wednesday, housing minister Weemal Weerawansa threatened to go on hunger strike if the UN failed to dissolve the three-member panel set up secretary general Ban Ki-moon to advise him on human rights violations during the final stages of the Lankan civil war.

The UN offices, meanwhile, are unlikely to open till the government assures the safety of the UN staffers.

"But unfortunately the government hasn’t got back to us," an UN official said.

Weerawansa and members of his party, National Freedom Front (NFF), have been picketing the UN premises since Tuesday morning.

An UN spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said in New York, that the UN had registered its strong objections with the Sri Lankan government over the protest which prevented UN staff from entering and leaving the premises.

``While respecting the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully, preventing access to UN offices hinders the vital work being carried out by the UN each day to help the people of Sri Lanka,’’ Haq said.

Opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said in Parliament the protest opposite the UN office in Colombo had brought shame and disrepute to the country.

But Weerawansa appeared unrelenting.

The government, meanwhile, seemed happy to fire a salvo against the UN on the issue of the panel from Weerawansa’s willing shoulders.

Sri Lanka ``…expects that the UN complex in Colombo would continue to function as normal in the days ahead. The Government understands that those who are demonstrating intend to continue with their protest, until the UN system revisits the matter of the Panel on Sri Lanka. At the same time, the freedom of entry and exit to and from the complex for authorized personnel, will remain constant,’’ the government information department said.