Sri Lankan security personnel and Buddhist monks clash during a protest in the southern port city of Hambantota on Jan. 7, 2017. Sri Lankan nationalists, monks and local residents are protesting the creation of an industrial zone for Chinese investments on the island. (Photo by AFP)
Sri Lankan opposition parliamentarians and several Buddhist monks have joined hundreds of others in a protest against the launch of the Sri Lanka-China Industrial Development Zone in Mirijjawila. Police used water cannons on Jan. 7 to disperse the crowd during a protest that injured 23 people, including 11 army and police officers. The protest was held despite a restraining order being issued by the Hambanthota magistrate court. Demonstrators said the government was handing over 6,070 hectares to Chinese companies, creating a Chinese colony inside Sri Lanka. However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe denied these claims, saying only 500 hectares of land had been leased, 95 percent of which were state owned. The remaining 5 percent of private landholders would be compensated, he said. The Sri Lankan government has agreed to a 99-year lease with China.
Venerable Passaramulle Dayawansha Thero, Coordinating Secretary of the National Monk Conference, condemned both the demonstrators and government officers for being irresponsible. "The Buddhist monk should act in a certain way as a monk. The government should have resolved this matter in a more peaceful manner," said the Buddhist monk. "The government added another black mark from international community due to the foolish way they acted," he said. Some Buddhist monks have been outspoken in their criticism of the current government. The National Bhikkhu Front, a Buddhist organization that includes monks, said they would bless those who love their country and demonstrate against the project. "People should chase away this government and vote for an another new government," the front said in a press statement on Jan. 8. Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, joint coordinator of the People's Movement Against Port City, said the government should have allowed people to protest. "The action of this government allows foreign countries to control land within Sri Lanka," said Father Iddamalgoda. Father Iddamalgoda has organized several demonstrations with local fisherman against a Chinese company that runs a dredging operation to fill the Port City project in Colombo. Nonetheless Father Iddamalgoda is also critical of the way opposition parties handled the protest. "The chaos was made on that day by opposition party," he said. "I really condemn using honorable Buddhist Monks for political propaganda. I too condemn the harmful approach of the government," said Father Iddamalgoda.
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