Thousands attend fisherman’s funeral, security forces stay away

By Leon Berenger

Thousands of fishermen and others from various parts of the country yesterday attended the funeral of slain fishermen Anthony Fernando while police and the armed forces yesterday stayed away on the advice of the Catholic Church and the family who believed their presence might provoke violence.
“There is not a policeman or soldier in the area and the family pledged to hold the funeral in a peaceful manner and therefore the presence of state security agencies was not needed,” Senior Deputy Inspector General Pujitha Jayasundera said.

He said that Wednesday’s killing of the fisherman during a big demonstration was unfortunate and a full investigation was being conducted by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

The Senior DIG said the police on Wednesday were provoked by crowds armed with knives, swords, axes and petrol bombs and the situation had swelled to a frightening point. Those who attended yesterday’s funeral arrived early in convoys of buses and the funeral took place peacefully.

Earlier opposition United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and other members of the party also paid their last respects to the slain fisherman.

On Friday, Minister Milroy Fernando who went to the slain fisherman’s house was reportedly booed by some villagers. Also on Friday, a magistrate directed the family to hold the funeral in a peaceful manner at the closest cemetery without processions.

The order by Chilaw Magistrate Jagath Kahandagamage came on an application made by the police as a precautionary measure to avoid any trouble during the funeral. Meanwhile, a fishermen’s union spokesman said yesterday the killing of a fisherman could have been averted if the police had used rubber bullets instead of live ammunition. He said the demonstrators armed or otherwise could have been easily dispersed by rubber bullets, but instead the police opted to open fire with live ammunition. This should never have been done and the result of it was that an innocent fisherman was killed.

Police spokesperson Ajith Rohana said that since the investigations were still underway he could not comment. He said a full report would be made available after Tuesday’s magisterial inquiry.

In May last year, garment factory worker Roshen Chanaka was also shot dead in police firing during a trade union protest against the private pension bill.

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