Colombo, June 1 (IANS) Sri Lankan police and university students clashed here Saturday over a long fermenting dispute over union rights, with four people being arrested, an official said.
The unrest began in May when the vice chancellor of the Sabaragamuwa University with the assistance of the higher education ministry decided to ban student unions on campus, reports Xinhua.
On Wednesday, four students began a hunger strike in protest against the ban and also demanded that five students who had been suspended over their connection to student unions be readmitted to the university.
On Saturday morning, the four students who were fasting were hospitalized due to their severely deteriorating health condition.
This triggered a massive protest from the university students who marched in solidarity of the four hospitalized students and demanded that the government resolve their issues.
“The students blocked the Colombo-Badulla road resulting in a clash between them and police. Four students were arrested,” Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) convener Sanjeewa Bandara told the media.
He added that the army had been deployed to disperse the students and alleged that they were being harassed by both the police and army.
Student unions in Sri Lankan universities have traditionally held much political power and are backed by all major political parties, especially the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP).
The JVP in 1979 and 1989 staged uprisings spearheaded by university students that nearly overturned incumbent governments.
However, in recent years the ruling party has pushed to end JVP dominance in university student unions by clamping down heavily on their activities, suspending students and increasing military presence in universities.