Violent Protests Against Chinese 'Colony' In Sri Lanka Rage On

During a recent visit to China, Sri Lanka's former president Mahinda Rajapaksa warned that there could be mass public unrest in Sri Lanka if China was to carry out its plan to take over the Hambantota deep sea port and create a nearby 15,000-acre special economic zone. While the former president has not been hesitant to publicly heckle his country’s current administration, who unexpectedly ousted him in early 2015, he seems to have been on point here:
Earlier today, as the ceremonial first brick of what has now been dubbed the Southern Industrial Zone was laid in Hambantota, the place erupted in violet protests which left more than ten people hospitalized and many others incarcerated.
On the eve of the second anniversary of Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena coming to power, a groundbreaking agreement was to be finalized with China that would dictate the future of the the country's southern Hambantota region for generations. According to the plan, an 80% share of the Hambantota deep sea port as well as land for the massive new industrial zone would be ceded to China for the next 99 years in exchange for $1.1 billion in debt relief.

While Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe previously declared this deal to be “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to boost his country’s economy and help with its colossal debt crisis, many people in Hambantota don’t quite agree. A group of demonstrators led by Buddhist monks from nearby Amabalantota took to the streets as the opening ceremony of the industrial zone took place.

However, these protesters were met by mobs of government supporters, who reputedly attacked them with clubs and fists. The monk-led demonstrators fought back by throwing rocks. The police, meanwhile, found themselves in the middle of the fray, using water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Ambulances were seen carting away injured demonstrators and law enforcement officers.

The main reasons for the protests against the impending Chinese handover was the perceived loss of autonomy to a foreign power as well as the potential land grab that could be necessary to build the 15,000-acre industrial zone.
"We are against leasing the lands where people live and do their farming, while there are identified lands for an industrial zone. When you give away such a vast area of land, you can't stop the area becoming a Chinese colony," local politician DV Chanaka was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.

When discussing where the land would actually come from to build this industrial zone, the Sri Lankan government was quick to claim that it would not be taken from the local elephant and bird sanctuaries, or from any operating stone quarries, or from the area that was previously reserved for a housing development for government officials, or even from the land earmarked for the port to expand. It soon became clear to the locals that the only land left for a development of this scale would be their villages and farms, which they depend on for their livelihoods. As former president Rajapaksa already pointed out in China, they didn’t like the sounds of this.


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