“Police fired at me with rubber bullets after I went behind the blockade with their consent to calm the protesting masses,” said UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. He accused the Presidential Security Division of trying to kill him. Later addressing the media he said that PSD men in civvies had allegedly fired rubber bullets at him while leading the demonstration against the actions of President CBK.
The UNP and three other parties TULF, TELO and ACTC jointly presented a ‘No Confidence’ motion on the government of CBK in early July 2001. The motion handed over by Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya stated that it has no confidence in the government since it is unable to solve the burning issues of the people. The seven SLMC MPs led by Rauff Hakeem crossed over to the Opposition benches following the deprivation of his Ministry and removal from the government by the President. Hakeem in a surprise move got NUA leader Mrs Ferial Ashraff to follow suit.
The President continued discussion with Ranil Wickremesinghe on amendment and enactment, but after reaching accord she is blamed of breach of trust in that the draft presented in Parliament with transitional provisions which permitted her to retain all the powers of the Executive in her new capacity as PM when the accord was to put an end to the Executive Presidency, which had been jointly agreed upon. The mutual consensus was broke down.
President CBK argued that since no political party could obtain a two-thirds majority under the PR system of voting, it is impossible to amend or introduce a new constitution through the lawful process laid down in the Constitution itself. She failed to comprehend that Constitutional amendments or replacement with a new document are a matter that should be done with the consent of all parties.
At least ten people were wounded in Police fire at Nugegoda. The Leader of Opposition then visited Maradana and there again he was engulfed by smoke from tear gas. Army units were summoned in support of the police. “I was informed by reliable sources that the PSD had followed me to Nugegoda and then to Maradana later in the day. I wish to tell Hitler Madam that her tactics will not succeed this time. We will continue our protests until democracy is re-established in this country”, said Wickremesinghe.
The Government banned demonstrations, for the Opposition to defy the ban and organise protest campaign against the prorogation of Parliament and holding a referendum on the proposed constitutional change. Two deaths were reported and more than 50 Opposition activists were wounded, some of them seriously. Led by groups of UNP parliamentarians processions began around 9.30 am and were moving towards Maradana, where they were supposed to hold a rally.
Several processions began with protestors congregating at near Gemunu cinema in Wattala, Thorana Handiya, Nugegoda, at Peliyagoda, and near Odeon cinema at Mt Lavinia.
However, within minutes, they ran into trouble. Street encounters blocked main access roads to the city. Police headquarters said on Wednesday that processions were banned under section 45 of the Referendum Act no 7 of 1981.
However, the Opposition vowed to go ahead with the processions. As Police swung into action at several fronts and succeeded in forcing a number of protesters away, some managed to sneak through Police barriers while others entered the city in lorries and buses.
She failed to comprehend that Constitutional amendments or replacement with a new document are a matter that should be done with the consent of all parties.
Karu Jayasuriya, UNP’s Deputy Leader also came under Police attack at Peliyagoda. Rubber bullets wounded a few persons, a young woman who was bleeding from her head was rushed to hospital by him. Parents who panicked in the city gathered at school gates. Education department authorities instructed principals to close up and hand the children over to their parents. The people who gathered at Dehiwala were attacked with tear gas, but protesters managed to find their way through by roads to Maradana. The worst attack took place when demonstrators clashed with Police at Maradana junction where they used tear gas and rubber bullets at unruly crowds. Clashes between the Police and the protesters continued for more than four hours.
Opposition leader Wickremesinghe and several UNP leaders assembled under the Punchi Borella bo-tree and addressed the crowd gathered there. He claimed that the protest was successful and appealed to the people to rise against the autocratic rule to protect their rights. Worst clashes took place at Nawaloka junction when Police tear-gassed and fired rubber bullets followed by baton charge to prevent the inward bound marchers to the city through Kelani bridge. Protesters attempted to force their way through barriers, but heavy tear gas forced them to run away. Opposition MPs John Amaratunga, Dr Jayalath Jayawardena, Navin Dissanayake and Joseph Michael Perera were among them. Rauff Hakeem, SLMC leader condemned the Police action to break up the peaceful procession of unarmed people. He said, “they were demonstrating against the proposed referendum and the prorogation of parliament. Unprovoked use of force orchestrated by the rulers was barbaric”. The Opposition reiterated that the government’s strategy of proroguing Parliament when a motion of No-confidence against it was handed over, was a spineless act intended to buy time to engage in weakening the Opposition. The proposed referendum was described as a futile exercise calculated to divert the attention of the people from the burning issues and create chaos among the different sections of the society.
Amnesty International condemned excessive force by Police to break up a peaceful demonstration and killing two protestors and wounding over 80 by using live ammunition to suppress the anti-government protests. Accusing the government of trying to curb the freedoms it urged President CBK to ensure Police observed basic principles in the use of force.
At the inquests, the magistrate ordered the arrest of Police officers suspected in the killing of victims.
The Most Ven. Malwatte Mahanayake Thera expressed his annoyance over the high-handed use of force to crush the anti-government demonstration led by UNP in Colombo. They could have averted a bloodbath having resorted to other strategies, Sri Vipassi Mahanayake Thera observed. The Rev Thera said former Prime Minister Sirimavo resorted to civilised means at times of parallel circumstances, acting with intelligence.
The People’s Alliance (PA) Government suppressed thousands of demonstrators attempted to congregate into the City of Colombo, in a joint protest.
What the final objective of the UNP led protest most people were not aware of but the numbers that turned out did suggest an upsurge of anger against the prorogation and referendum.
The harsh retaliatory measures set out by the Government pointed to that the Opposition towards the moves was a grave challenge to the rulers and the ruling parties.
The writer can be contacted at kksperera 1 @gmail.com
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