Sri Lankan tea donation controversy in Lebanon is tempest in a teapot: Ambassador

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A social media storm over a donation of Ceylon tea from the Sri Lankan government has been blown out of proportion, according to Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Lebanon.

“If you want some tea, I can give you some tea. But don’t make a mountain out of it,” ambassador Shani Calyaneratne Karunaratne told Al Arabiya English.

Karunaratne has no intention of confiscating the controversial gift, despite receiving countless emails requesting the embassy to do so.

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“I am very surprised why the people of Lebanon are saying such nasty things about their own head of state. I don’t think the head of state will stand on the road and hand it out to people tea bag by tea bag,” she said.

In late August, Karunaratne presented President Michel Aoun with a donation of 1,675 kilograms of Ceylon tea.

According to a tweet from the President’s office, the donation was intended for those affected by the Beirut port explosion.

But the President’s office later announced that the tea had been distributed to the families of soldiers in the presidential guard, provoking a barrage of criticism.

For many Lebanese, it was another example of international donations going to the wrong people. Using the hashtag “Where is the Ceylon?” many Twitter users blasted Aoun and called for greater accountability and transparency regarding donations following the explosion.

“We heartily thank you for the aid Sri Lanka sent to Lebanon... But once again, our government took the aid you sent and left nothing at all for the people,” said one user, addressing the ambassador.

But Karunaratne lambasted the critics, pointing out that it is international protocol to give donations to the head of state.

“We gave it to the president. I have no problem in him giving it to anyone he likes.”

Asked whether she sympathizes with Aoun’s critics, such as the protesters who called for his resignation during the recent anti-government protests, Karunaratne refused to comment.

“I don’t get involved in the internal matters of any country. This has nothing to do with a foreign state, we are friendly toward all citizens of Lebanon and the head of state is the head of state.”

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