Sri Lanka’s opposition alliance spoke out against the proposed lease of an airport to an Indian firm, warning the government not to allow the country become a ‘pawn’ in international power politics
Colombo: Sri Lanka’s opposition alliance, led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son, on Monday opposed the proposed lease of an airport to an Indian company, warning the government not to allow the country become a “pawn" in international power politics.
An Indian company had made a bid to develop the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), which was built by the Rajapaksa government under massive borrowings from China. MRIA, built at a cost of $209 million, has been dubbed the world’s emptiest international airport due to the fewest number of flights operating from it. The proposed leasing comes in the wake of a similar deal to hand over an adjoining sea port at Hambantota to a Chinese company for 99 years.
“We tell the government not to allow Sri Lanka become a pawn in international power politics," Namal Rajapaksa said, addressing Parliament on a zero-hour motion by the Joint Opposition (JO) to oppose selling of state assets. The deal to run the Mattala airport as a joint venture with India is yet to be finalized. Namal said while the government had opted for an Indian firm on the MRIA, the Hambantota sea port—within close proximity to MRIA—had been given to China.
Dullas Alahapperuma, the JO leader who moved the resolution, said that the government decision on the MRIA would lead to serious national security and defence implications. Alahapperuma claimed that Indian company GMR is to be handed over the MRIA for $205 million on a 99 year lease. “We demand that government stop this deal," Alahapperuma said.
Namal was also quizzed by police on Monday to answer questions related to Friday’s anti-government demonstration at Hambantota. Some 28 JO supporters were arrested for defying a court order which prevented demonstrations in the area. Rajapaksa charged that police had been visiting homes in the area in the night to target protestors.
The police had fired tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators who tried to enter the Indian consulate at Hambantota last week to protest the proposed deal with India. The JO said they stand opposed to the present government’s programme of selling state assets.
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