Sri Lankan opposition vows protests over casino bill
Colombo: Sri Lanka`s opposition will stage a protest Thursday outside the proposed building site for three proposed casinos valued at $1.3 billion, including one from gaming mogul James Packer, an official said Wednesday, as parliament prepares to push through legislation delayed since last year.
The three projects are a $350-million casino project 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 already twice rolled back attempts to push through legislation in parliament that will make casinos legal. Strong protests from the opposition United National Party (UNP) and Buddhist hardline group Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is part of the ruling coalition, have stalled the attempts.
The government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has a two-thirds majority in parliament and the latest presentation of the projects Thursday is expected to have a high chance of success, Xinhua reported.
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 exist 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 ignored.
"UNP members of parliament (MPs) will be present at James Packer`s casino site before parliament begins to protest (the bill) and we will not be scared away by gun toting local politicians nor by the police or the military. They can try what they wish, what they like but we shall certainly be there," UNP MP and well known economist Harsha De Silva told reporters.
He was referring to an attack led by ruling party politicians on a group of UNP MPs this week when they were engaged in an inspection tour of a controversial $360-million harbour and $290-million international airport built in the southern part of the country.
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