|BATTLE OF COLOMBO 2001||SCN SRILANKA CRAZY NEWS|
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|Sri Lanka ouster bid ends in blood
and teargas Jul 19 2001 17:27 IST COLOMBO, July 19 (AFP) - Teargas
engulfed Sri Lanka's capital Thursday as police fought pitched battles
with opposition activists calling for the ouster of President Chandrika
Kumaratunga's minority government.
An elderly man held a water-soaked rag to a bleeding head wound, while a younger man fell unconscious behind police lines after being mercilessly beaten by more than a dozen constables.
At Colombo's northeastern entry point at Peliyagoda, police moved container trucks across the road to prevent activists entering the city to stage their "People Power" rally. A short distance away, in the commercial area of Kotahena, police fired live rounds to prevent protestors who had dismantled police barricades continuing their march. Two men were killed and more than 30 were wounded.
"Sri Lanka has never seen so much teargas fired within such a short period of time," said opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who was hit on his left shoulder by a blue gas canister. Later, Wickremesinghe showed a handful of rubber bullets he had collected from the venue of his meeting in Maradana, the commercial hub which is also a central railway station.
Even as police used trucks, iron fences and barbed wire to block the highways leading to the city, thousands of anti-government demonstrators switched to trains and got off at Maradana, side-stepping the road blocks. In the southern tourist resort town of Mount Lavinia, police fired at the tail end of the opposition rally, actually hastening their arrival in the capital to stage the demonstration in defiance of a government ban.
Young men grabbed teargas canisters and threw them back at police who ran for cover in many places. "It was like a cat and mouse game," said opposition legislator P. Dayaratne. "Every step we took, we were attacked with teargas and rubber bullets. But the teargas was being returned to sender in most places." Vehicles of some opposition legislators were damaged due to police attacks. Army troops were also deployed behind police lines, but they were not seen taking any active role in dealing with the demonstrators who carried black and white flags and shouted slogans against President Kumaratunga.
The opposition underlined the military's neutrality in dealing with Thursday's demonstrations. Despite the overnight police ban on the rally, the main opposition assembled thousands of supporters at Colombo's Punchi Borella area and held an impromptu meeting just outside a Buddhist temple.
"Hitler was in a bunker, Sri Lanka's Frau Hitler is hiding in a palace and running scared," opposition leader Wickremesinghe said, vowing to keep up anti-government demonstrations until she agreed to recall parliament. The government had asked schools and offices to remain open and promised protection to business establishments, but the city was virtually at a standstill by Thursday afternoon. Shops, offices and schools closed early and people scrambled to get home but most roads leading out of the city remained shut causing traffic jams even after the opposition ended its protest.
Residents in apartment blocks two kilometres (1.3 miles) away said their eyes were still feeling the effects of the massive barrage of teargas emptied in the city. Police were earlier heard frantically calling for replenishments of teargas and rubber bullets. "We did not go out to see the rally because of the police shooting," said retired civil servant W.W. Gunaratne at Colombo's Maligawatte apartment complex. "But we are all in tears."
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