Royal, Thurstan school boys caught up in battle between Police and protestersView(s):
- Teacher unions condemn Police violence, and complain to the Human Rights Commission
By Kasun Warakapitiya
This week, a string of protests in populated areas such as Reid Avenue near Colombo University and near Kelaniya University were organised, which caused severe inconvenience for the people.
Hundreds of people using the roads, some of them picking up their children after school, were caught up in the clashes between the protestors and the Police who used teargas. Some vehicles too were hit.
Among those affected were Royal College and Thurstan College students, who were trapped between the Police and the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF) protest groups.
One such incident took place at Colombo University’s Law Faculty entrance, as university students carrying banners and boards proceeded towards Royal College and Reid Avenue.
School sessions had ended, and children were waiting in buses, when the protestors ignored Police warnings and eventually the situation turned violent.
The Police ignored the students and fired tear gas towards the protesters from a distance of 30 metres and barricaded the road near Lionel Wendt Theatre to prevent the protestors from advancing.
In one of the scenes observed, a school bus with students was seen trapped and the children exposed to tear gas. The bus driver was missing, and the Police had to intervene to take the children to a safe area.
The Police said they were concerned about using tear gas and water cannons in populated areas, such as schools and hospitals,
Police Media Spokesman Nihal Thalduwa said their intention was to control protests before they get intensified and causes inconvenience to the people.
He said they requested the protesters to choose areas which were not densely populated so the people would not be badly affected.
The Police Spokesman said they intentionally allowed the protest march to advance to Cambridge Place and avoid Royal College and Thurstan College when it took place on Wednesday.
The Police held barricades at the T junction near the Colombo Museum to disperse crowds using a lesser number of officers by cutting off protesters from going into Marcus Fernando Mawatha or Albert Crescent.
SSP Thalduwa said they even refrained from using a baton charge and resorted to the use of high-pressure water cannons and tear gas to disperse protesters.
Unexpectedly, the protesters turned towards Rajakeeya Mawatha, and this resulted in the school children being caught between the Police and protesters. Even though the Police managed to clear the school vans, the buses were not driven away as the drivers were not there.
IUSF Convener Wasantha Mudalige said the protesting students were seeking answers for issues faced by people and their protests were peaceful, but they were subjected to high-pressure water cannons, tear gas attacks and baton charges by the Police.
“We have the right to protest and express our freedom of speech, but the Police only want us to stay in one place and protest. We are responsible for the lives of the people. We just want to express ourselves and hold protest marches peacefully,” he said.
However, the people expressed their frustration over the regular protest marches and Police actions. They said both the protesters and the Police should think of the safety of people, especially the children.
University teachers and lecturers said both protestors and the Police should minimise the inconvenience caused to the people when conducting and handling protests.
The Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) President B.M.H.S.K. Banneheka said the protesters hold protests in populated areas at busy hours to make an impact on the Government.
He said the Police should not aggravate university students and make the situation violent by resorting to the use of water cannons and tear gas.
Dr Banneheka condemned the Police firing tear gas into the Colombo University, when protesting students took refuge in the university premises, when tear gas and high-pressure water cannons were used to disperse crowds during the protests held on Wednesday.
The teachers’ unions condemned the behaviour of the Police and said they had lodged complaints at the Human Rights Commission.
Ceylon Teachers Union General Secretary Joseph Stalin said the Police should not have used tear gas near schools. He said the Police should use methods to direct the protest away from students.
Meanwhile, Ceylon Teacher Services General Secretary Mahinda Jayasinghe too said school children were not a part of protests, and therefore the Police should handle the situation by using other tactics.
University security guard killed
A security guard deployed at the Colombo University was injured during Wednesday’s protest and he later passed away at the National Hospital.
He was identified as Priyantha Wanninayaka, 55, and was attached to the Rakna Lanka security service.
He had earlier served as a soldier before joining the security service.
Hospital sources said injuries were seen on the victim, but the postmortem examination had not yet been completed.
Mr. Wanninayaka was a resident of Nochchiyagama and father of two. His funeral took place last evening.
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