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One killed, 24 wounded in police shooting at Rambukkana

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Wounded protester being carried by youth

Countrywide protests against steep fuel price hikes: Govt. announces 35% bus fare increase; minimum charge Rs 27

Indefinite curfew declared in part of Kegalle District following incident

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando and Rathindra Kuruwita

Having failed to disperse those who had been blocking the railway line at Rambukkana for over 15 hours in protest against the latest increase in the price of diesel and petrol, the police yesterday evening opened fire on protesters. Several protesters suffered injuries, and one of them, succumbed to his injuries; two others underwent emergency operations at the Kegalle hospital. Hospital sources said 21 others had been admitted to hospital.

It was the first occasion the police opened fire since public protests erupted on 31 March demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government over the rapid deterioration of the economy.

Police spokesperson SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the police had been compelled to use force after protesters started causing damages to public property. The official alleged that an attempt had been made to set fire to a fuel bowser.

Trouble at Rambukkana led to the public forcing a Fort bound train to stop at Rambukkana, while people blocked the Colombo-Kandy and Colombo-Chilaw roads.

Earlier in the day, private bus operators, in Colombo and its suburbs, as well as in the provinces, yesterday (19) suspended services, demanding immediate relief in the wake of the steep increase in the price of diesel, by the loss- making CPC.

They blocked roads in several parts of the country, including the entrance to the Katunayake-Colombo Expressway, over a mile away from the Bandaranaike International Airport.

The police intervened at many places though private bus services couldn’t be restored. Private bus operators called for an immediate revision of bus fares as they couldn’t bear the latest increase.

Some asked for diesel at discounted price for private bus operators to maintain bus fares at the present rate.

The CPC has matched the cost of a litre of Lanka IOC’s diesel and petrol by revising price to Rs 289 and Rs 338, respectively.

Following consultations between Transport Minister Dilum Amunugama and relevant authorities, the former announced a 35 percent increase in private and SLTB bus fares and the minimum charge was increased to Rs 27.

Amunugama has succeeded Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi in the cabinet reshuffle effected in response to the political crisis whereas the Samagi Jana Balavegaya National List MP Diana Gamage received the appointment as the State Transport Minister.

Three wheeler drivers, too, protested against the increase in the price of petrol while protests erupted at a service station in Rambukkana after the management announced the closing of its fuel dispensing pumps in the wake of CPC price revision. They demanded fuel at the previous price as old stocks were available therein.

In spite of repeated assurances to normalise the fuel distribution network during the Sinhala and Tamil New year the country continued to experience fuel shortages.

SJB MP Mujibur Rahuman said that the country was paying a huge price for a spate of wrong decisions taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The President should reveal who really advised him not to seek the IMF’s intervention at the first signs of a forex currency crisis, Colombo District MP Rahuman said. Having acknowledged that the current crisis could have been avoided if the IMF’s assistance was sought much earlier, President Rajapaksa couldn’t remain silent as regards the culpability of his advisors, the lawmaker said.

The police yesterday imposed a curfew in Rambukkana indefinitely.



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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