Sri Lankan police today fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse a protest by Opposition leaders near the Indian Consulate in Hambantota against the handover of the airport operations to India. At least 26 people were arrested while four policemen suffered minor injuries, police said.
The members of the Joint Opposition backing ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa staged the demonstration to protest the Sri Lankan government’s deal with India to handover the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) in Hambantota. This was a major infrastructure project of Rajapaksa during his presidency with loan support coming from China. “We are opposing the deal with India to handover Mattala MRIA,” said DV Chanaka, a local opposition parliamentarian.
“We should not allow our state assets being sold to foreigners,” he added. The protesters numbering about 1,000 included Namal, the elder son of Rajapaksa, and several opposition lawmakers. The police had obtained a court order preventing any protest in the judicial area of Hambantota. However, Chanaka said they were protesting peacefully.
In January, a similar protest was held by the opposition against the move to handover the Hambantota sea port to China on a long lease. Scores of people were arrested then. The government, which charged that Rajapaksa had built costly infrastructure projects in Hambantota with commercial loans from China, has been forced to enter the long lease with a Chinese company to set off debt on an equity partnership.
The Opposition claim that by giving India the Mattala airport, the government is making Hambantota a playground of international super powers – China and India.