Police warn of crackdown as JVP slams Govt. over suppression of students’ rights

by Shamindra Ferdinando

As the JVP slammed what it termed, the Mahinda Rajapaksa -Karu Jayasuriya government over Wednesday’s attack on a protest march spearheaded by the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF), affiliated to the JVP, Police Headquarters warned of tough action to quell protests.

Police had dispersed the IUSF gathering near Kollupitiya junction with tear gas and water cannon triggering traffic chaos which brought both public and private transport to a standstill.

Police liberally fired tear gas and water cannon which forced students to break-up their march towards Temple Trees.

Police had swung into action after an offer of police radio cars to take a group of student representatives to Temple Trees had been refused. The UNP accepted a similar offer last week, senior DIG Jayantha Wickremaratne said.

The All Ceylon Peasants’ Federation (ACPF) and IUSF accused the government of using brute force to suppress the student community. JVP MP S. K. Subasinghe, the General Secretary of the ACPF, said that the government could have easily met their demands if a genuine effort was made to end wasteful expenditure. The demand to construct suitable accommodation instead of paying a staggering Rs. 22 million monthly rent on private buildings was a crime, he said. "Our demands are just," he asserted, reiterating their call to reduce the number of ministers and their privileges, return vehicles rented at exorbitant monthly payments and cancel the hotly disputed scheme to pay the monthly house rent of politicians.

"We won’t hesitate to use force to break-up violent protests," DIG Wickremaratne said. Asserting their undisputed right to deploy riot squads backed by water cannon, the police spokesman cautioned students against violent protests. "Don’t expect a free run," he said.

Fielding questions, Wickremaratne rejected political interference in law enforcement operations. "There is absolutely no truth in that assertion," he said. The decision to break-up a protest would be taken by the senior officer on the spot in consultation with the police top brass. A case in point was Wednesday’s police action, he said, emphasizing the urgent need for a cohesive policy to deal with trouble makers. He acknowledged the need to be cautious in handling public protests.

Referring to two previous JVP-inspired student protests disrupted by police early this month, the official admitted that the government called for an internal inquiry to establish whether excessive force had been used by law enforcement authorities. The National Hospital, the Dental Hospital and the general public had complained against police action near the Lipton Circus. "We know the two hospitals were affected," Wickremeratne said, claiming that action had been taken to prevent repetition of similar incidents.

"We would strive to confront them away from hot spots. This would minimise inconvenience to the general public," he said. But this would not be possible in some instances; a case in point was the protest directed at the University Grants Commission (UGC) at Ward Place.

Police headquarters had pointed out the need to re-locate the UGC or any other institution regularly targeted by students as part of the measures to tackle what he called large scale protests. Contrary to media reports, some of the students come prepared to cause mayhem. According to him police cameramen had been deployed to identify trouble makers. They have captured students armed with cycle chains," he said. The deployment of police cameramen would help the department to counter adverse media, he said expressing the belief that the presence of police video teams would deter at least a section of the violent crowds.


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