21 injured in clashes in Sri Lanka over China port deal
At least 21 people were injured Saturday in violent clashes between Sri Lankan government supporters and villagers marching against what they say is a plan to take over private land for an industrial zone in which China will have a major stake.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to try to break up the clashes, which took place as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was attending an opening ceremony for the industrial zone, located near the port city of Hambantota, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of the capital, Colombo.
The clashes began when government supporters started throwing rocks at villagers who were marching to the ceremony site. The protesters, organized by the opposition and led by Buddhist monks, responded by throwing rocks at the government supporters. A group that appeared to have been transported to the area by the government joined in attacking the protesters with poles.
Twenty-one people, including three police officers, were taken to a government hospital in Hambantota, a hospital official said.
Sri Lanka’s government has signed a framework agreement for a 99-year lease of the Hambantota port with a company in which China will have 80 percent ownership. Officials also plan to set up a nearby industrial zone where Chinese companies will be invited to set up factories. The villagers and monks are opposed to it and demand their residential and farmlands be spared.
A court had issued a restraining order on the protest, saying it could lead to unrest, but the protesters defied it.
Wickremesinghe inaugurated the industrial zone despite the clashes. Speaking at the ceremony, China’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang, said that his country hopes to invest $5 billion in the region within the next five years, and that the new industries are expected to generate 100,000 jobs.
China invested over $1.2 billion in the port in what some analysts call its “string of pearls” strategy in countries surrounding its rival India. Although the project has seen losses since 2010, Sri Lanka’s government, at first critical of the enterprise, approached China to seek help to make it viable.
Lawmaker D.V. Chanaka, one of the protest organizers, said he fears the port area will become a “Chinese colony.”
“We are against leasing the lands where people live and do their farming, while there are identified lands for an industrial zone,” Chanaka said. “When you give away such a vast area of land, you can’t stop the area from becoming a Chinese colony.”
After the lease expires, it can be negotiated for another 99 years, according to the framework agreement, whose terms are still being negotiated. The government also has proposed to lease 15,000 acres (6,070 hectares) in Hambantota district and adjoining Moneragala district for the industrial zone.
The Rev. Magama Mahanama, from a group calling itself the Monks’ Organization to Protect National Assets, said that the clergy, following an ancient tradition, would issue a decree to the government to stop the leasing. Historically, kings in predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka are said to have abided by decrees issued by Buddhist monks.
“It’s a way of conveying the message that the monks are not for it,” Mahanama said. “Ninety-nine years means at least two generations. When they (the Chinese) take root here, what’s the guarantee that we will have it back? There is a major threat of cultural erosion and demographic change.”
Wickremesinghe, speaking to reporters earlier in the week, said the partnership arrangement was necessary to free Sri Lanka from the debt incurred to build the port. He blamed the debt on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose government was friendly to Beijing.
Wickremesinghe said the industrial zone was necessary to make the port and the nearby Chinese-financed airport, also running at a heavy loss, viable.
“The port can’t be taken away,” he said, adding that his country’s former British colonial rulers did not take away the Trincomalee harbor or the Colombo port.
(AP – By ERANGA JAYAWARDENA)
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it is very transparent that mahinda and co’s are behind this scenario, great conspiracy .
the media is so corrupt in that they project a fake news and fake pictures to their bias. Qhere are the political leaders who engineered the protest the JVP And Weerawansa’s party and Dinesh etc. This quy masquerading as a monk….is he real or like the news item is fake and to project him in the center sends out a false messsage. The mobks reflect less than i percent of the population and they are the least concerned about Hambantota. The protest has no meaning and the left will leave nothing in terms of development they have no ideology and if they do they are bankrupt like the other politicians.
That’s a true demonstration of anger against selling off mathrubhumi which has been tilled by amude-wearing southerners over many centuries.
The Chinese are yet to divulge what they intend to do with our beloved soil.
Yahapalana does not respect the blood, sweat and tears of the native southerner which has ensured growth and survival of a community in the southern dust bowl.
Why not introduce micro irrigation systems and solar power to enable the southern peasant community to flourish? Leave the Airport and the Harbor alone.
Unfortunately, there is no ‘komis’ in such noble initiatives. The billions from Chinese would have millions to the powerful.
Ashiki, Mahinda and Co are citizens of this land and they enjoy every right not only to protest but organise protesters, as well.
That is a human right.
Please Ashiki, Sri Lanka is not following Sharia law. If you like Sharia Law, you can practice that in Wilpattu under Ayatollah Bathiutheen.
at least these pimpers dont have any courages however pointing out the reasons.these ass holes working under some one and roaming like stray dogs in foreign country right.even i don’t need ur bloody advise, sorry for that and by the way having hefty courage and self confidence face what so ever , not like you buffoons fearing to go forward to face the truth but rumoring and talk behind.this is called po****an.