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Police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse UNP led protest in Colombo

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by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Fort and Pettah areas of Colombo city became a battlefield of sorts on Friday February 17th when Police cracked down on a mass demonstration of opposition parties led by the United National Party(UNP) protesting over issues like the recent steep rise in fuel prices, increasing cost of living and mismanagement of the country.

Sri Lankan policemen in riot gear fire tear gas at protestors-pic courtesy: AFP

Although the Army and Special Task Force (STF) were also called in to supplement Police efforts in controlling the demonstration it was the anti-riot squads of the Police that were primarily engaged in suppressing the protest.

The Police-public clashes started after demonstrators began a protest march after the main rally was over. While Police tried to prevent the procession on the one hand the participants tried to break through the cordon on the other. This led to friction and fracas.

Many rousing anti-govt slogans were chanted by the crowd with political leaders joining in enthusiastically

Friday afternoon saw the entire stretch of roadway from the Technical College roundabout to the Sri Lanka roundabout being jam packed with people as demonstrators in their thousands gathered at the Colombo Fort railway station premises for the protest rally and demonstration organized by the chief opposition UNP.The Pettah central bus stand area was also crowded.

The protest rally began around 3 pm outside the Fort railway station. It had been officially designated as the venue for the rally and Police permission obtained. While crowds comprising people from all communities gathered in large numbers a very large contingent of Police personnel under direct supervision of senior Police officers was also stationed in the vicinity.

Anticipating an unauthorized protest march by the demonstrators the Police had many barricades set up at strategic points. The chief intention was to stop protesters marching towards Presidents House or the Presidential secretariat at Galle face or proceeding through Galle road towards “Temple Trees”in Kollupitiya.

The rally commenced with leaders from UNP and other parties addressing the crowd.Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. A notable feature was the participation of the Tamil National Alliance at the meeting. Parliamentarians Suresh Premachandran and MA Sumanthiran represented the TNA.

The leader of the opposition and the UNP, Ranil Wickramasinghe, urged the government to increase the salaries of the workers and strengthen democracy. “We are prepared to fight from north to south, from west to east and in the Up Country to achieve that target,” he said.Wickremesinghe however left the Fort rally soon after speaking leaving his deputies to hold the “Fort”.

“Having promised a better democracy, one of the best dictatorships in the world has been created. Having promised food, we were forced into begging,” said Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne, the leader of the New Left Front.

Democratic Peoples Front leader Mano Ganesan condemned the UPFA governments economic policies and urged the working class to unite regadless of ethnic differences to fight for the rights of people.MA Sumanthiran, the TNA national list MP said it is important that the opposition and the public rise against the fuel price hike.

Among prominent UNP political leaders notable persons present at the meeting were former UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya, UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake,UNP National Organiser Daya Gamage, parliamentarians Dr Harsha de Silva, Mangala Samaraweera, Dr Jayalath Jayawardhana, Renuka Herath, Rosy Senanayake, Eran Wickramaratne, Lakshman Kiriella, Palitha Thevarapperuma and Harin Fernando.

Some of the notable absentees from the UNP were Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, and MP’s Ranjith Maddumabandara, Thalatha Athukorala and Chandrani Bandara, all of the reformist group within the UNP.

Many rousing anti-govt slogans were chanted by the crowd with political leaders joining in enthusiastically. Some of the slogans raised by the protesters, starting with Opposition and UNP Leader Wickremesinghe were to bring down the fuel prices and that the people were suffering while MP Namal Rajapaksa was being groomed as the heir to the throne (Thel Mila pahatha Damapiyaw, Namalta Urumaya, Janathawata Karumaya)

At the final stages of the rally as political speeches were being wound up sections of the crowd began moving towards the direction of lotus road while shouting anti – govt, anti – Rajapaksa slogans. Police then moved in and blocked those on the march erecting barricades while urging the crowd to disperse.

The demonstrators however were vociferously defiant and began marching towards the barricades. Scuffles took place as demonstrators tried to break through Police ranks and remove the barricades.

Many political leaders of the UNP remained on the platform continuing to chant rousing slogans. But few of them joined the demonstrators challenging barricades with the exception of a few like Kalutara district MP Palitha Thevarapperuma and Badulla district MP Harin Fernando.

With hostility increasing the Police then started firing tear gas canisters on the demonstrators. Water cannons were also used to disperse the crowds. The demonstrators however refused to be cowed down and continued their efforts to storm Police barricades.

Crowds rallied each time they were beaten back by tear gas and water cannon and renewed efforts to storm the barricades.Beaten back they plunged in again and again vigorously.

Five determined “charges” were made to break down Police barricades but all were thwarted by Police using water cannon and tear gas. UNP Parliamentarians Palitha Thevarapperuma and Harin Fernando were in the forefront actively leading the protesters trying to break through the barricades.

pic courtesy: tamilwin.com

At one stage sections of the crowd began pelting stones at the Police. The Police too reacted by throwing things back. Gampaha district MP Dr.Jayalath Jayewardena was injured when a tear gas canister struck his left arm.A large number of demonstrators sustained minor injuries.

Police claimed that fifteen Police officers including the senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG)of Police, DIG and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) for Colombo were injured in the melee.

Additional security personnel from the Special Task Force(STF) and Army were called in after the Police was stoned but those deployed did not engage directly. Although possessing firearms there was no shooting as in the case of Chilaw where the STF fired live bullets on unarmed protesters without warning.

Reinforced by Army and STF presence the Police redoubled their efforts to disperse the crowds. Using water cannon and tear gas liberally the Police began driving the People back all the way up to the Manning market area. Crowds scattered and engulfed the Gunasinghepura area.

UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake and senior Parliamentarian Joseph Michael Perera called off the rally officially and urged protesters to leave peacefully.. Many including several party MP’s started leaving.

Around 300 hardcore supporters continued to defy the Police and refused to leave. Sections of this group dragged wooden pavement stall structures to the middle of the road and set then on fire. Police then unleashed torrents of water on these elements and chased them away.

By 6. 30 to 7.00 PM the crowds had dispersed . The deserted Fort and Pettah areas bore the look of a war ravaged zone.

UNP MP Harin Fernando told the media that the attack on the protest was brutal and the government would not be able to continue to suppress the voice of the people. “This was a very peaceful protest that was brutally cracked down. I don’t think the government can continue this for long. You can see how motivated the people are and how much they disagree with this government, so obviously protest like this would continue,” he said

In Chilaw - pic courtesy: vikalpasl

Harin Fernando also stated that todays protest was just the beginning. “This was just the beginning and we will continue to protest against this undemocratic regime,” he said.

‘Our father kept telling stop firing..despite this bullets flew over his words’

Senior UNP leader Joseph Michael Perera told the media that the attack on a peaceful protest should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. “This was a very peaceful protest, none of these people had weapons or anything else with them. This same thing happened in Chilaw where one person was killed and now it’s being continued,” he said.

The UNP has condemned the Govt’s undemocratic attack on a democratic protest”

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  1. Imagine if these uprisings were to occur only in Tamil areas, most Sinhalese would favor indiscriminate aerial bombing of Tamils and later the government would cover up as it were terrorist activity even if there is video footage.I am relieved our government has not yet resorted mass murder of the Sinhalese demonstrators yet which they are fully capable.

  2. It is a welcome sign that they have not resorted to shooting to disperse the protestors as was case in Chilaw. It is advisable for the Government to review at least kerosene price hike.

  3. The authoritarian Rajapakse government will not able to get away with this !!

    Rajapapaksa Government goons go on having a thmasha with every thing subsidized or state sponsored, while ordinary hard-working Shrilankans have to bear the burden of Rajapaksa’s economic blunders.

  4. Why do UNP protest without explaining the cost of OIL in the world market? Why cannot UNP explain anything about the American embargo on Iran which created the surge in oil prices?

  5. .
    Why did TNA joined the protest?

    Why did UNP invite TNA?

    Majority of the southern people does not like TNA, and now they will support the police actions.


  6. A. Sellathurai says:

    “It is advisable for the Government to review at least kerosene price hike.”

    This is not merely about kerosene price hike.

    Sri Lankan state has to look at the past 63 years of its governance. There is no quick fix to continuing problem which include how best you treat your own people.

    If escalating state violence is the only way to deal with even a peaceful protest how on earth is the state going to deal with much bigger problems. Escalation of violence creates more resentment and leads to more violence, a vicious circle which could spiral out of control.

    Think what is wrong with the structure of the state and its governance and how to restructure it so that each citizen has a democratic stake in the country and its governance.

  7. M.Sivananthan says:

    “Why do UNP protest without explaining the cost of OIL in the world market?”

    Explanation, discussions and debates only take place in rational societies not in stupid country.

    You say:

    “Why cannot UNP explain anything about the American embargo on Iran which created the surge in oil prices?”

    Why cannot the state explain about the colossal losses CPC incurred in the hedges/derivative deal and other incompetent management or mismanagement of petroleum sector?

    Man I thought you are stupid but now you have become mad to put it mildly.

    I am curious to know how does your pro government (clan, UPFA,EPDP,..all human rights violators) defense system automatically triggers in the absence of your central processing unit.

    Amazing abilities, only the stupid Tamil is blessed with.

    You must be a secret admirer of your late National Leader, VP. He had the same ability in abundance. Is it your secret ambition to replace him?

  8. I just watched the clip of Virakesari. Some of the crowd were carrying Brooms. How i only wish they use it on the Rajapakse goons. And that day is soon coming.

    Mahinda Rajapkse, who visits Tirupati often will soon cry…”Aiyo…Govindaa…Govindaaa”! It will soon be curtains for Sri Lanka. For the while, the world thinks, Israel will not act on Iran. But it is sadly mistaken. That time for diplomacy has long gone. If Iran goes Nuclear, the Price of Oil will be permanently $150+. Israel, which will then have to live by the Sword of Damocles will not wait for that day. Whether the Socialist Obama likes it or not, Israel will hit Iran and Toast it. Sri Lanka will then be left dry of Oil from Iran and Mahinda will have to beg New Delhi for Petrol and Kerosene. SL Rupee will hit 150 to the Dollar. And then will begin the real deal for Mahinda & Gang. They will have to face the Broomsticks of SriLankans where-ever they go!

  9. Who is this Sivananthan…why he behaves an educated rural fellow…it was already said that there is no any price hike on fuel in the world market and government has a viable economic policy to overcome these problems…..this is only because of the inability of the government,,,,,

  10. Who is this Sivananthan…why he behaves like an uneducated rural fellow…it was already said that there is no any price hike on fuel in the world market and government has a viable economic policy to overcome these problems…..this is only because of the inability of the government,,,,,

  11. Fishermen, estate workers, doctors. who is joining them next? soldiers. police. Naval personel, Unies? Don’t worry India will give free oil and salary for the soldiers. China will lookafter the north east and get Trinco.

  12. Mr. Sivanathan: The people are aware of the Rs. 75.00 per litre added as a tax to off-set Govts. uncontrolled expenditure. So why blame the Americans

  13. Was this a genuine protest against fuel prices or UNP exposing their bankruptcy thereby outting the lives & wellbeing of the people at risk???

    If it was a UNP cash in, are the masses of Chilaw that gullible to be instigated by the UNP with a hidden agenda.
    If not for the fuel hike, UNP would never be capable of organising such a protest.

    Those UNP opportunists should have been dealt with more harshly.
    Jayalath & Tissa should have bitten the bullet but unfortunately, they hid behind innocent masses.

  14. These kinds of rallies should be organised in every district from the grass-roots level. Capital Colombo is UNP’s fort. Whatever happens in Colombo does not reflect the people’s feelings regarding this regime. The Sinhala masses of the rural areas should be involved in order to materialise a regime change of sort, in the next election.


  15. First they came for the Tamils in the “No Fire Zone” and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Tamil.

    Next they came for Lasantha Wickramatunga, and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Journalist.

    Then they came for Roshen Chanaka, and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a factory worker in the Free Trade Zone.

    Then they came for Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Murugasan and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a JVP activist.

    Then they came for Anthony Fonseka, and I did not speak out
    Because I was not a fisherman.

    When they finally came for me there was no one left to speak for me.

    With apologies to Martin Niemoeller, a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime in Germany.

  16. How aptly the Chinese said, when you point a finger the wise man looks in the direction, a fool looks at the finger. Scenes of irrepressible wrath are now visible. Escalating reaction reminiscent of Gandhi’s Salt March is yet to unfold. A ‘BREAD MARCH’ is sure to ignite it. One immolation spurred the Arab Spring. The Chilaw shooting can do likewise.

    Suharto of Indonesia secured six terms and was dreaming of the seventh. Speculation was, after Suharto who? Son or daughter? History worked differently. After Mahinda who? Son or sibling? The family had one plan, the people have other plans. Tamils think wishfully yet realistically. Military presence in the North has perforce to be scaled down to repress the rumblings of the South.

  17. Desperete UNP try to make a tension in south and the capital. The UNP has failed to challange the rulling party through recent elevtions so they are trying to mobilize the supporters on the streets. I am very disappointed with the party.
    GOSL should remove all the street protesters from the street, If possible send the organizers to jail.


  18. There are three good reasons the Rajapakse regime cannot be brought down on the CoL or the Fuel prices hike issues.

    (1) The regime knew their deception has a time-frame. They knew they made promises they cannot keep within available resources – LONG BEFORE the current global economic crunch and the Iranian issue. This is why they kept a highly excessive army and also encouraged leading elements of the crime-drug world keeping them within their fold. They figured there will be sufficient work for both sooner than later

    (2) the only legitimate source of opposition – that may engage regional and global recognition – has to come from the main Opposition viz:- the UNP, now saddled with a weak and divided leadership. Ranil has no stomach to be around when real action starts, which has always been the case. The Rajapakses calculated well there. Here in Fort, he virtually ran away after his brief speech. It was expected and his duty is to wait and lead the agitation. But that was never to be. Karu J is a lightweight who lacks status in the party and the country. Sajith Premadasa’s wing did their own sabotage.

    (3) Our people are that gullible they usually forget both important major or minor event in 3 weeks

    In sheer desperation, the country is moving towards an uprising nationally on the CoL issue. The people appear to have had enough. They know the Rajapakses do not have the managerial talent, skill or the necessary leadership to bring relief to the people. The UNP is far too weak and divided to organize simultaneous demonstrations in the main towns in the 4 corners of the country. Predictably, the UNP will be forced to organize one or two high-profile demos like this to gain credibility. But the Rajapakses will use force to break these up and put the blame variously on “tiger threat” “the work of the diaspora” and “the international community angry with them because they killed Prabakran”.

    If there is one redeeming feature in this Fort Railway Station demo, it is the participation of two TNA stalwarts – Suresh and Sumanthiran. This is a sign the country is coming together. But the leadership should really come from where it matters. That is – the leading members of the Buddhist Clergy. These have done very little except now and then muttering “the Sangha gave leadership to save the country during times of national peril for 2,500 years” The time to save the country has come – again since their last effort was abortened rather ceremoniously at Kandy a few years ago. More than the life of one citizen has been snuffed out by Police shooting. Admittedly, I am not a fan of the Rajapakse type of governance or their clear intentions. But I write asserting my right as a citizen in a democratic country universally recognized and expected to act in defiance to protect the interest of the larger mass of people suffering from a venal crony regime bent on fattening themselves, their near and dear misappropriating the commonwealth of the resources of the country.

    As Martin Luther King (Jr) reminded us, some of the greatest evils of the world were not the work of bad people alone “but for the appalling silence and indifference of the vast majority of good people”


  19. This is good description of what happened.I was there. One great thing was crowds not afraid of cops. Also it was of all communitys. Sinhalese,Tamils, Muslims,Malays, Burghers and even Bharathas like me

  20. Cannot disagree with Seran Senguttuvan’s on the UNP and Ranil. But the reality is, the participation of the large of people in the action indicates that the people are waiting for an opportunity to express their frustrated feelings and they used the opportunity. It happened in the 1952 hartal too. The Leftist leadership launched the hartal as a limited action confining it to the urban workers, but it spread to the rural areas and the villagers too participated in their own ways. The Left leaders were not organized to carry on a struggle of such a larger scale and when the Govt. retaliated the struggle was discontinued. But now, looking at events is other parts of world, people do not wait for someone to give leadership they take their own leadership.

  21. Vedda has become a muddy minded person. He thinks everything in his LTTE way.

    I think many who bark at me and on this issue, do not know the price of the kerosene or petrol in Sri Lanka.

    No price hike happened but the subsidy on the fules removed. All you guys bark about “WORLD STANDARDS” on many things but now you guys take a U turn. Subsidies are the problems in Sri Lanka.

  22. Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan

    You are hopping mad at the clan. Good I welcome it.

    Keep up your good work, the clan deserve it and need it very badly.

  23. Looks like an avenue has been opened for UNPers to come to streets at last, seems it is too good an opportunity to miss. Fuels price hike affects both sides of the parliament. Are UPFA supporters biting their teeth, unable to vent their anger/frustration? What started at Chillow was a genuine protest, organised and conducted by the affected ones. The response by the forces for this was brutal and excessive, killing one and injuring a few. However, when the heavy weights showed up at the Colombo rally, the response by forces was totally different, although cause and motives of the latter lacked credibility. To me it an opportunistic move of the UNP simply resurrect the its political bankruptcy. Where were they when journalists were abducted and killed; when white van menace alarmed every one; when the masterminds of Lumman’s killing were not charged; grease devils parading at streets threatening the normal way of life? I am concerned because the UNPers involvement in this issue would have the potential to tarnish underlying cause of this genuine protest of a section of the society, which severely affected by this issue. Understandably, GoSL would looking for a reason other than the rising of cost of living in order to suppress this sorts of gathering, for that, UNP’s collaboration comes in handy saying the protest is all about bring a legally elected Government down with the conspiracy of the IC. Tragically some innocents are not going to go back home.

  24. It is time for both Sinhalese and Tamils to work together to bring positive changes to the country. Politicians will open the unhealed wounds and use it their advantage. I hope and pray both Tamils and Sinhalese will understand this and resist any attempt by the politicians to turn us on each other to divert the attention from real problems.

    Tamils should realize that their future is intertwined with all Sri Lankan citizens which include Sinhalese and Muslims. There is no bargaining chip in your hand: accept the reality. There is no silver bullet. Flying the Tiger flag in Sydney is pure stupidity. If you are brave enough, take a flight back to SL and figure out a way to fly the flag. It will not do any good to the ordinary people in Vanni who are suffering from the after effect of the war. Diaspora can do much more productive contribution to ordinary Tamil people than flying flags. We have had enough and let’s work together with other communities to find a solution. I am not opposing the push for accountability during the last days of the war (2009). I have lost family members and fully understand the pain.

    To my Sinhalese friends, please understand the pain and suffering of Tamil people. My deepest sympathies to Anthony Fernando’s family of Chilaw: it was nothing but a cold blooded murder. While I sincerely hope, he is the last victim of the SL forces; it will be very hard to restraint a machine that is trained to kill indiscriminately. It needs to be fed and will find victims. I hope you will now realize that they were not fighting with human rights charter in one hand. Please understand the legitimate grievances of Tamil people and support them in their quest to find a political solution.

    Finally, to both Sinhalese and Tamils, please let’s us not allow politicians to turn us against each other and use it to their personal gains. My biggest fear is that politicians will try to fuel the communal violence to distract the common people from focusing on real issues. Let’s not become the victims of these silly political games. I am begging you in the name of our future generation. Enough is enough.

  25. I have always been a dreamer; I love to see changes to our thinking.

    A vast majority in the country knows where reason lies; The very same majority does not lift a finger to make reason prevail.

    The few who continue preaching to the lambs do know that the wolves keep gobbling up those very lambs. Their sermons do not stop!

    The others who come forward to calm the waters do not have the strength to turn the tide!

    Wolves shrug off appeasements. Wolves dismiss protests. This is lesson of History.

    What is needed is the forcible overthrow of the stinking social order. Remove the curse of Language and Religion from the psyche of individuals.

    Only men of integrity, resources, conviction, and wide acceptance in the society can bring about this democratic revolution.

  26. After very long time the UNP did something united and nationally with all community people joining in unity to protest. But our leader Ranil ran away . Other leader Sajit kept away. The young leader who led from front bravely was Badulla MP Harin Fernando.He was hero to youngsters like me

  27. Friend Native Veddah:

    We are hopping mad at anybody who misgovern and ruin the country. I was equally critical of Ranil when Ravi K, SBD et al were destroying useful organizations in the country in their own venal agenda. We were equally furious when Premadasa criminalized the political system with Maru Sira while creaming the country with due connivance from Mr P, who now hides in London with his own share of the loot. So be assured, there is nothing personal here. I have also given their dues both to MR and GR even in these columns – when it is so due. If you will allow me, nearly 3,000 years ago when Plato was contemplating The Republic, the wise Greek presumed there will be corrupt politicians and corrupt regimes in that great system of governance that sprang from his fine mind. He left it is left to responsible citizens to make the necessary hue and cry to keep these crooks in check. So in a way, we are being Platonic, to the letter. You should too.


  28. Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan

    In my comments I usually express my disgust for the people who support the crooks. I am not scathing enough towards politicians as by definition politicians are crooks and potential dictators.

    It is the people who should ensure check and balance on the system of governance.

    If people don’t then who would. Politicians want their votes, People vote for the most stupid, most abusive and greedy politicians. It is the people we should be blaming not the politicians, they are there to misuse their power and positions, redistribute nation’s wealth to their cronies and their clans.

  29. Mihin lanka and srilankan airlines owe the petroleum corporation 30 billion rupees.They are unable to pay this due to the fact that they are loss making enterprises,but they still want fuel form the petroleum corp and mahinda insists that they are given fuel.So in order to sustain such mismanagement the people have to suffer with increaded prices even though 75 cents is already being taxed on them on fuel.If they protest for such injustice they are shot at and killed to give a clear message to them.Every action has a reaction and this kind of inefficiencies in Mihin lanka airlines and srilankan airlines cannot continue and asked to be subsidised by the poor people of this country with their blood,sweat and tears.We know that the the prices of petrol,kerosene etc affect the most vulnerable segments of the society the most and they can’t be expected to suffer while government cronies have tamashas and mismanagement in our airlines.

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