COLOMBO (TIP): One person was killed and about 15 were wounded when Sri Lanka’s military shot at a protest demanding clean drinking water. At least 4,000 protesters had gathered on Thursday in Weliweriya, some 12 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Colombo. A protester who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals, said chemical emissions from a factory into water sources has polluted drinking water in about 15 area villages.
Residents have been demanding for more than a month that authorities close down the factory but to no avail, the protester said. He said police used tear gas to break up the protest, but when protesters clashed with police, the army shot at them. He said soldiers shot at some protesters who were running away. Reporters said soldiers beat up several reporters and photographers who were covering the incident and smashed their cameras. Kanchana Dissanayake, editor of Sinhala-language “Ada” (Today) newspaper, said that his photographer was admitted to a hospital after being beaten by soldiers.
He claimed the soldiers said that “media dogs” should not cover the protest and smashed his camera. Another female reporter said on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals that soldiers first targeted journalists because they wanted the media away before turning on the protesters. Many reporters were hiding for many hours into the night, she said. Police spokesman Buddika Siriwardene said one person died and 15 were hospitalized but declined to comment on the nature of the injuries. Siriwardene said the situation arose because protesters continued to block a main road, obstructing traffic, despite agreeing with the defense ministry to call off demonstrations until investigations are complete.