Sri Lankan police clash with protesters, arrest 26

Sri Lankan police clash with protesters, arrest 26

The $210 million airport in Mahinda Rajapakse's home town of Hambantota in the south of the island is one of several state-owned white elephants that were built under the former president and have never turned a profit AFP/LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI

COLOMBO: Police in Sri Lanka clashed Friday (Oct 6) with hundreds of supporters of the former president who were protesting plans to privatise an airport named after him, firing tear gas and water cannon and arresting 26.

The US$210 million airport in Mahinda Rajapakse's home town of Hambantota in the south of the island is one of several state-owned white elephants that were built under the former president and have never turned a profit.

It is one of the world's least used airports, servicing just one flight a day, and Colombo has said it is considering selling it to an Indian investor.

"We used teargas and water cannon to disperse the crowd," a police officer told AFP by telephone from Hambantota, 240km south of Colombo.

"Four of our men were injured when the demonstrators pelted stones."

The protest was led by Namal Rajapakse, the legislator son of Mahinda, who was ousted from power in January 2015.

The new government offered to sell the airport after sealing a billion-dollar deal in July with a Chinese state-owned company to take over a majority stake in a deep sea port in Hambantota.

The Rajapakse administration had raised some US$8 billion in loans from China to build infrastructure, including the ports, which do not generate enough revenue even to pay staff.

Source: AFP/aa