02/27/2023, 11.56
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Colombo: police and protesters clash over postponement of local vote

by Melani Manel Perera

According to the opposition, the government of President Ranil Wickremesinghe is attempting to postpone the vote to prevent the difference between the executive and popular preferences from emerging. Yesterday, agents used tear gas and water cannons, at least 30 people ended up in hospital.

Colombo (AsiaNews) -  Clashes continued overnight in the capital between protesters and the police, who used tear gas and water cannons against militants of the National People's Power (NPP), an opposition coalition calling on the government not to postpone the local elections scheduled for 9 March. More than 30 protesters were hospitalised. 

In mid-February, the Election Commission had announced that the postal vote, scheduled for 22 to 24 February, would be postponed until a later date after the Department of Government Printing refused to print ballot papers, saying it had not received the relevant payments.

According to several commentators, this is an attempt by the government to postpone the local elections so that the distance between its administration - which took office after street riots ousted former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa - and the people's preferences does not become apparent.

The leader of the NPP, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, has declared that for the sake of the people he will ensure the local vote is held, by hook or by crook. During the protest rally at Lipton Circus, he emphasised that the battle to force the government to hold the local government elections cannot be dismissed with the use of tear gas or water cannons.

A court order issued against 26 leaders including DIssanayake himself, had banned marching to the city centre and entering areas around the Office and Residence of the President and the Ministry of Finance premises from 1pm to 8pm yesterday.

Ignoring the order, the protesters still headed towards Colombo Fort. Hundreds of police and military personnel were deployed to prevent the protesters from reaching the Presidential Secretariat and City Hall.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake led the march and had a heated exchange with the police, who then used tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the protesters, who however again clashed with the officers.

During the protests, the slogan 'Ranila pissek' (Ranil is a fool) was heard. Eventually, the protesters gathered at Lipton Circus and held a rally, surrounded by police and military.

Some candidates who expect to run in the local elections told AsiaNews that President Wickramasinghe 'has not yet learnt the lesson from the massive popular struggle to oust Gotabaya'.

"The government has the money to deploy so many police and army battalions against our protest, but it does not have the money to import the medicine and food," said a woman candidate with the NPP.

"Even if we accepted him as a leader, what trust can be placed in a head of government who does not allow a real protest of the people?" the activists added from the protest stage.

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