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Sri Lankan religious leaders join anti-drug protest

As drug use spreads to schools, Cardinal Ranjith calls for strict punishment for dealers to 'eradicate this menace'

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

Published: February 28, 2018 06:04 AM GMT

Updated: February 28, 2018 06:07 AM GMT

Sri Lankan religious leaders join anti-drug protest

Sri Lankan religious leaders join thousands of others in a protest march in Negombo on Feb. 25 against the spread of illegal drugs, especially in schools. (Photo by A. Fernando)

Sri Lanka's religious leaders are stepping up their campaign for a drug-free society.

Catholic priests, nuns and other religious leaders joined thousands of others in a protest march against the increased use of illegal drugs, especially among schoolchildren.

The protest and rally were organized after parish priests reported cases of children being caught with drugs at school.

The country has been on the map for years as a transit point for major drug cartels. Its strategic location makes it a very efficient locality for drug smuggling.

According to protesters, drugs such as "losinger" and "apple tablets" are popular among school pupils.

As protesters marched toward the center of Negombo city, they shouted: "Drug dealers survive, our children victimized," "Tablets are sold, children are destroyed" and "Let us eradicate drugs."

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, said he would form a parish youth committee that would identify drug dealers and inform authorities.

"Drug dealers use attractive ways to grab the attention of schoolchildren so that they will become drug addicts," Cardinal Ranjith told the rally on Feb. 25.

"I warn all drug dealers to stop this. I take the leadership in eradicating drugs from Negombo."

Cardinal Ranjith has demanded strict punishment for drug peddlers who should not be allowed to misuse humane qualities like compassion and forgiveness.

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"The drug menace is fast spreading in the country. The law-making institution must create strict and strong laws, while law enforcement authorities must bring drug peddlers before court and the judiciary must impose maximum punishment and work to eradicate this menace," he said at a press conference Feb. 19.

Sri Lankan authorities destroyed cocaine worth US$108 million in a single shipment in January.

"We should not be afraid to continue the people's fight at village level. We should not let a few politicians or drug dealers damage a large number of villagers. As religious leaders, we are in the front of this fight," said Muslim leader Abdul Rahuman.

According to government reports, 40 percent of prisoners in Sri Lanka are drug offenders.

President Maithripala Sirisena received an award from the Anti-Drug Non-governmental Organizations Conference in January in recognition of his campaign to end the use of drugs and tobacco by 2020.

Buddhist monk Kaluwarachchigama Sumanarathna Thera said it is sad that people of good will are frightened to raise their voices against drugs because powerful people are involved in the trade.

"We are going to be the voice of the voiceless. A radical change of attitude is what we expect to gain from this protest march," he said.

Jude Fernando, a Sunday school teacher, said police are well aware of drug dealers but hesitate to catch them due to political interference.

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