Mayhem in Mirijjawila
BY Methmalie Dissanayake, Kavindya Chris Thomas and Upatissa Perera
Police unleashed the water cannon treatment to break up a mob, which included the newly-formed Buddhist Monks Organization to Protect the Magampura-Hambantota Harbour, Parliamentarians Udaya Gammanpila, Dullas Alahapperuma and former Uva Chief Minister Shashindra Rajapaksa,...... that launched a protest demonstration at the inauguration ceremony of the Sri Lanka-China Logistics and Industrial Zone in Mirijjawila, Hambantota yesterday morning.
The protesters stormed the venue of the ceremony denouncing government's plans to establish the new development project.
The protesters pressed on with their demonstration in contempt of a restraining order from the Hambantota Magistrate's Court that specifically prohibited 27 parties from engaging in any protest or demonstration in or near the premises of the Hambantota Port.
A Hambantota Police source said 52 individuals were arrested during the incident.
Ceylon Today learns that 23 individuals including monks, police officers and journalists sustained minor injuries in the process according to a source at the District General Hospital in Hambantota where they were briefly treated.
Ten private and four Hambantota Police vehicles sustained damages in the melee.
The 14-day Court restraining order was issued last Friday (6) prohibiting protests, processions and rallies at any point on 5 roads leading to the Port.
The open violation of the Court order led to the Police using water cannon to preempt any major disturbance to the peace and hindrance to the inauguration ceremony launching the Sri Lanka - China Logistics and Industrial Zone Project.
Police Media Unit also side that several isolated protests and clashes were also reported in Ambalantota as well.
Joint Opposition member Udaya Gammanpila told Ceylon Today that it was a peaceful protest that was attacked by the government authorities. According to him, the protestors had taken 'jungle routes', avoiding Police barricades to arrive at the inauguration ceremony.
The Project, one of the key initiatives of the government in its economic development programme was launched despite the tense situation by the Prime Minister along with several ministers.
The Logistics and Industrial Zone comes under the Southern Development Plan of the good governance government. The opening ceremony took place in the presence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang and several other senior ministers.
Addressing the gathering after unveiling the commemorative plaque, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the government expects to receive US$ 5 billion investments within 3 - 5 years after opening in the industrial zone.
"The then government wished to attract foreign investors into the country by opening the Hambantota Port. Unfortunately, due to several key reasons the entire project became a 'white elephant'. Investors did not arrive as expected and there were no export from the Port. Therefore, the port continued to incur severe losses. Apart from bearing losses, from 2017 onward we have to pay debt installments and the country is not economically strong enough to bear it," Wickremesinghe pointed out.
Therefore, the government was left without any alternative apart from discussing the matter with China in a diplomatic manner. In the first phase of discussions the government tried to find if there was a possibility of cancelling those debts. But the Export - Import bank of China refused to do so. The only alternative we had after this was to develop the industrial economy of the area with the collaboration of China, the Prime Minister said.
Wickremesinghe stated that China wanted 15,000 acres, so the cost for building infrastructure facilities could be reduced. They also told us that they would allow two Chinese companies, which are China Merchant Ltd and China Harbour Ltd to operate in Sri Lanka. Between those two companies, it was China Merchant Ltd which submitted a higher bid for the Port, which is
US $ 1.12 billion and 80% shares, he added.
"The government also plans to relocate the Galle Navy camp to Hambantota. Sri Lanka Coast Guard Agency will be operated from Galle after signing the agreement with China Merchant Ltd," Wickremesinghe stated.
Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang also addressed the crowd. He said that China considers Sri Lanka as a top priority for investments.
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