Sri Lanka police say they shot at unruly protest

AP News
Posted: May 30, 2011 2:24 PM
Sri Lanka police say they shot at unruly protest

Sri Lankan police shot and tear gassed an unruly labor protest on Monday, and more than 200 workers and police were wounded in the clashes, officials said.

The clash in the country's main free trade zone where many foreign investors run garment factories _ the island's leading foreign exchange earner_ could be a setback to the government's efforts to lure investors to a country that is reeling from the effects of a 26-year-old civil war.

Police Chief Mahinda Balasuriya said thousands of workers protested against a government pension proposal. They attacked police with sticks and stones in the town of Katunayake, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the capital, Colombo.

He said police used tear gas and batons at first but failed to quell the protest. They opened fire at some protesters who broke into a police station, Balasuriya said.

Trade unions and other critics say the government's pension proposal for private-sector employees would benefit workers less than the government claims it would.

Trade union leader Wasantha Samarasinghe said police attacked the workers first and damaged factories, provoking them to retaliate.

More than 200 workers were admitted in one hospital alone, he said.

Sri Lanka's economy is just recovering after its civil war ended in 2009.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects number of wounded in headline. For global distribution.)