Mass public demonstrations against a ground water contamination scandal in the Gampaha District took a deadly turn a short while ago after the military was deployed to disperse the protests and the resultant tension left at least one person dead and over 20 injured, according to police and hospital sources.
The victim was a 35 year old male, according to hospital reports. At least one more demonstrator was critically injured in clashes on the scene.
Protesters reacted angrily to the presence of the army resulting in severe tension that also caused injuries to several journalists reporting on the demonstration.
Police had earlier tried to disperse the demonstration using water canons and tear gas after the protests blocked the main Colombo-Kandy Road, but called for military reinforcements when attempts failed.
Security forces personnel had fired into the crowd in its efforts to disperse the protest, residents told reporters. Video footage has also emerged of the assault.
Journalists and camera crew were prevented from covering the clashes, with the military moving to destroy the memory cards of at least one photojournalist reporting in the area.
Ada Newspaper photojournalist Chanuka Kulasekera was admitted to the Gampaha hospital following the clashes. His camera has been damaged in the attacks.
By 9:40 p.m. Sri Lankan time, a power blackout took place in Weliweriya. The power is yet to be restored in the area.
Residents and reporters on site are calling it a mini-war and claim the security forces are combing the villages for instigators of the demonstration. Residents say they are still hearing gunfire in the area.
Ground water contamination in Weliweriya, Gampaha brought residents of some 10 villages in the area out onto the streets a few days ago led by a Chief Monk of a temple in the area. Residents in the area have implicated a glove making plant known as Dipped Products PLC a subsidiary of Hayleys Group
in the contamination crisis, although the company has stringently denied the claims. The residents are demanding the closure of the industrial plant and pure drinking water facilities from the authorities.
According to some reports, the military will be stationed in the area till 2 a.m. tomorrow. Residents speculate that the company is attempting to transport goods from the plant tonight and the military will supervise the operation.
Meanwhile the Chief Monk leading the protest Siridhamma Thero called off his fast unto death a short while ago following discussions with Hayleys representatives at the Defence Ministry. Hayleys officials also held discussions with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksayesterday Colombo Telegraph reliably learns.