Sri Lankan opposition protests casino bill
Colombo: Sri Lanka`s main opposition staged a protest Thursday outside the proposed site for three casinos as parliament prepared to pass a controversial bill to legalise gambling.
The three projects are a $350-million casino by Australian casino mogul James Packer, a $300-million gaming facility by local tycoon Dhammika Perera called Queensbury and the largest venture of $650 million by local conglomerate John Keells Holdings (JKH) that will also have a casino.
The government has twice attempted to push through the legislation in parliament to legalise casinos.
However, strong protests from the opposition United National Party (UNP) and Buddhist hardline group Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is part of the ruling coalition, has stalled the attempts.
"The government continues to fool the people by saying that the casino gazette includes no casinos. It`s a joke. The government is trying to take people for a bunch of idiots but we cannot be fooled by the government," UNP lawmaker and well-known economist Harsha De Silva told reporters during the protest.
The UNP members, together with supporters and Buddhist monks, marched along the Fort area of central Colombo, Xinhua reported. The protest also caused a huge traffic jam as the area holds several large offices and five-star hotels.
The government led by President Mahinda Rajapksa holds two-thirds majority in parliament and the latest presentation of the projects Thursday and Friday is expected to have a high chance of success.
Last year, following protests, the government removed the word "casino" from the draft bill and inserted the phrase "mixed development projects," which the UNP claimed was just a euphemism for casinos.
The government had previously stated existing casino licenses could be transferred to the three projects and opposition politicians have charged that loopholes existed in the regulations to establish casinos at a later date.
Packer`s casino in particular has been severely censured by the UNP for being given sweeping tax concessions for 12 years. The Australian Financial Review has estimated that the tax holiday will add up to as much as $1 billion.
The UNP has also slammed the government for not establishing a competent monitoring system for casinos and alleged that public concerns were being.
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