Colombo, Nov. 7 (Reuters): Young lovers sat holding hands under umbrellas on Colombo’s Galle Face Green today as soldiers played rugby nearby, little concerned about a political battle that threatens their peace.
In the Sri Lankan capital’s congested Fort area, home to wholesale vegetable and fish markets and the city’s main railway station, it was business as usual with handcarts, hawkers and vehicles jostling for space in the lanes. The island nation was thrown into political turmoil this week when President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three ministers and suspended parliament while her arch-rival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, was on a visit to Washington.
Kumaratunga accuses the government of giving away too much to the LTTE in peace talks and says she acted in the country's interests. “We are free now. There are no bombs, no killings. Everybody is happy and I don’t know why she has to do all this,” said Rukshan Careem, who works for a money exchange shop near Colombo’s Hilton Hotel, referring to Kumaratunga's moves. The Hilton was among several buildings badly damaged by a huge truck bomb in 1997, which was blamed on the Tigers.
But today, fear of rebel violence seemed long gone. Schoolboys and families with small children walked by the Indian Ocean on Galle Face Green, eating pineapples and sipping coconut water to beat the heat. “Everything is going well. The Prime Minister is working for peace and there is peace after all these years,” said Chanaka Piyasena, a coconut seller. “We will lose tourists if this continues.”
There were few Western tourists in Colombo today, but many skip the capital anyway for hotels dotting the country’s palm-fringed white sandy beaches. Two elderly women tourists from Germany, clutching umbrellas and water bottles, declined to comment on the security situation. Cabinet spokesman G.L. Peiris said on Thursday 2,000 tourists had cancelled visits so far, and the political uncertainty was expected to hurt an industry that expects to welcome a record number of tourists this year.