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Tense situation at launch of Hambantota development project

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A tense situation has been reported in the Mirijjawila area in Hambantota during the opening of the Sri Lanka-China Industrial Zone Development Project, a short while ago.

Police used tear gas to disperse a group of protesters who reportedly pelted stones at the site.   The development project was launched by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Mirijjawila investment promotion zone today (7).

A protest was launched during the inauguration ceremony for the 99-year lease of Hambantota port and industrial zone to a company in which China will have 80-percent ownership. Bracing for a big protest by Buddhist monks and opposition supporters, Sri Lanka Police yesterday obtained a court order banning protests in several areas in Hambantota from Saturday (07) until January 20. The court order, covering certain sections of the Hambantota area, was notified to an organization and 26 individuals including MPs Namal Rajapaksa and Chamal Rajapaksa.

“Will respect court order and protest in a lawful manner to protect ancestral lands of the people of the area against privatization,” Namal tweeted following the court decision.

Police commandos patrolled the streets of Hambantota, set up roadblocks and stationed water cannons to prevent unrest.  The government also has proposed to lease another 15,000 acres in Hambantota district and adjoining Moneragala district for the industrial zone.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, speaking to reporters earlier this week, said the partnership arrangement was necessary to free the country from the debt incurred to build the port. He blamed the debt on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose government was friendly to Beijing. He said the industrial zone was necessary to make the port and the nearby Chinese-financed airport, also running at a heavy loss, viable.

The economic zone, which is to be set up in 15,000 acres connecting four districts, will be acquiring only five per cent of private land. All the private lands will be acquired with the permission of the people and they will be sufficiently compensated, the government said.

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