Jumbos run amok in Beruwala, police deployed to protect leader


By Shamindra Ferdinando

A simmering internal battle in the UNP took a turn for the worse yesterday when the party reformists made an abortive bid to disrupt a public meeting chaired by UNP and Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at Imitiaz Bakeer Markar’s stronghold in Beruwela.

Several hundred UNPers launched a protest in the Beruwala town ahead of the UNP leader’s arrival at the Kankanamgoda road residence of a party supporter to meet loyalists. Demonstrators shouted anti-Wickremesinghe slogans and displayed banners condemning what they called his failures. They also accused him of a clandestine political relationship with the government.

A UNP spokesperson said that Wickremesinghe was engaged in a campaign to raise funds needed to repair party headquarters Siri Kotha damaged by the supporters of the reformist group after his re-election on Dec. 19, last year.

A spokesperson for the Reformists told The Island that Wickremesinghe and his cronies, particularly UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake were engaged in a campaign to divert the attention of the party. Instead of launching an all-out street protest against the Rajapaksa’s taking the country on a path of economic ruination,the UNP leader was trying to hang on to party leadership, the rebel said.

The UNP accused its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa’s camp of launching the protest, the first major incident since the Dec. 19 incidents at Siri kotha. According to the UNP, those opposed to Wickremesinghe had alerted media institutions on Thursday night about the planned protest. The party reiterated that the leader wouldn’t give in to those trying to undermine his authority by illegal means.

Reformists alleged that Wickremesinghe had government protection to visit Beruwela. Asked whether the police had harassed those protesting against Wickremesinghe, Beruwela-based sources said that an overwhelming police presence, including riot squads prevented them from surrounding the venue of yesterday’s meeting. Sources said that Wickremesinghe’s group had to take a circuitous route to reach the place in spite of heavy police presence aimed at discouraging those protesting from targeting the Opposition Leader’s convoy.

Addressing the gathering an irate Wickremesinghe accused Imitiaz Bakeer Marker of being behind the protect. Wickremesinghe called the one-time top office bearer of the UNP ‘Medamulana Imitiaz’.

Rebels vowed to step up pressure on Wickremesinghe as they believed the Dec. 19 poll had been conducted in an environment favourable to Wickremesinghe. The rebels intend to launch protests at selected venues to pressure Wickremesinghe to step down as leader.

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