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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Sri Lanka protest turns violent
Sri Lanka opposition party supporters seek shelter as police fire teargas
Police used tear gas against the demonstrators
Two people have been killed in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, after police broke up a big anti-government rally.


This is a political attempt to suppress opinion opposite to that of the government

UNP deputy leader K Jayasuriya
Thousands of opposition activists led by the United National Party (UNP) defied a police ban to protest against the suspension of parliament by the government.

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, but then resorted to live ammunition.

Twenty-five people were seriously wounded with three people said to be in a critical condition.

Parliament was suspended by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to avoid a no-confidence vote after her ruling alliance lost its parliamentary majority.

Makeshift roadblocks

Thousands of soldiers and riot police lined the streets of the capital, setting up makeshift roadblocks and barricades at all the main entry points to the city.

Buses from out of town were redirected and commuter trains cancelled to prevent opposition supporters reaching Colombo.

Opposition leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe: Said police tried to kill him
At some roadblocks protesters did manage to break through. Thousands were forced to stay put, merely throwing stones and insults and the police blocking their way.

Some streets in central Colombo were littered with stones and rocks and in a few places, tyres and vehicles have been set on fire.

Traffic was thin throughout the city and many shops and schools remained closed, heeding government warnings that the protest might turn violent.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe accused the police of trying to kill him during the protest.

He said he was saved by his bodyguards who pushed him to the floor of his jeep and whisked him away when police opened fire.

Violence fears

On Wednesday, a statement from police headquarters warned that anyone who took part in the opposition demonstration would be arrested and prosecuted.

Sri Lankan president
President Kumaratunga: Suspended parliament for two months
There have been fears of violence after a state-run newspaper warned of a bloodbath.

The paper quoted intelligence sources as saying the opposition was planning to bring in truckloads of thugs to instigate riots at the behest of what it called foreign and local reactionaries as well as Tamil rebels.

The opposition had promised its protest was to be a peaceful one.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo says the fact that thousands of people defied the police ban and came out on to the streets will be very worrying for the government.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frances Harrison reports
"The air was heavy with tear gas"
Ranil Wickramasinghe, United National Party
claims the police were trying to kill him
See also:

16 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lankan MPs in parliament protest
11 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka president 'undemocratic'
05 Jul 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka invokes terror laws
22 Jun 01 | South Asia
Confidence vote looms in Sri Lanka
20 Jun 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka coalition in crisis
06 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Sri Lanka
19 Jul 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Sri Lanka's political rivals
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