Sri Lanka police in damage control mode after assault boomerangs

ECONOMYNEXT – Thousands of undergraduates marched through the streets of Colombo Tuesday while 2,000 unarmed constables watched peacefully in sharp contrast to their vicious baton charge to disperse a smaller protest five days earlier.

Acting police chief Pujitha Jayasundera, who tried to defend the brutal police assault of fleeing students last week at Town Hall in Colombo, took special care on Tuesday to ensure there was no breach of the peace by police.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said Jayasundera took a "person interest" in ensuring that there was no repetition of the ugly scenes last week when women students were assaulted by constables wielding batons in both hands.

Both Jayasundera and his boss, IGP N. K. Illangakoon, are in the bad books of President Maithripala Sirisena following last week’s attack on students that has sparked public anger against the so called "good governance" regime.

Sources close to President Sirisena said he had taken a "dim view" of Illangakoon and was contemplating drastic changes as the minister in charge of the subject of the police department, Tilak Marapona, appeared inept.

"The police commission is also investigating the assault and the feeling is that the initial police inquiry into the incident was just a very bad cover up which made matters worse," a senior police officer said.

He said the Inspector General had initiated another inquiry, but that could not go ahead as it would amount to contempt on the police commission as well as the magistrate’s court of Colombo which are having similar investigations.

Failure on the part of Illangakoon to take any disciplinary action against the senior police officers who led the team of constables at Ward Place last week has also drawn the ire of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Samaraweera, a good governance champion of the new administration, was virtually calling for the sacking of the IGP and at the same time was pleased that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had initiated action.

"We are pleased that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has called for a report regarding this incident immediately," Samaraweera said in a statement.

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"However, it is the IGP’s responsibility to identify the police officers involved in the incident, whose photographs are displayed in the newspapers, to take immediate disciplinary action against them pending the submission of this report."

Failure on the part of Illangakoon to take any action and in fact leave the country to attend a conference in Uganda has raised many eyebrows within the government.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera is also in trouble after he claimed that police acted in self-defence and used minimum force against undergraduates, but video footage showed constables chasing after students and assaulting them.

"The minimum force argument does not hold if you chase after students and beat them up," a senior police officer not involved in the incident said. "What was also lacking was a senior officer to negotiate with the crowd and try to disperse them peacefully."
 

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