President moves to stop student strike

Unrest over undergrad’s death
By Damith Wickremasekara

President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday moved in to avert a countrywide strike by university students and called for reports from various authorities on the death of Ruhunu University student
Police claim that the student died of natural causes but students alleged that he succumbed to injuries from police assault.

As students threatened to boycott lectures in all universities, President Rajapaksa called upon the University Grants Commission, the Higher Education Ministry, the Police and the students union among others to state their views on the incident.

The President’s initiative came a day after Police Chief Mahinda Balasuriya told a news conference that natural causes led to the death of 25-year-old Susantha Bandara of the university’s arts faculty. At another news conference yesterday, Mr Balasuriya said a CID team had been detailed to arrest another student who reportedly assaulted Mr. Bandara during a demonstration in Matara on June 17.

The JVP-backed Inter-University Students Federation (IUSF) has claimed that the student died following police assault at the demonstration. IUSF president Udul Premaratne told the Sunday Times: “Police are now trying to change the version and placing the blame on another student. We strongly condemn this cover up and are calling a full-scale strike”.

The victim’s mother, Violet Manatunga, who had returned after working as a maid in West Asia, told our Moneragala Correspondent Sumanasiri Gunatillake, that her son had died of an “infection in the brain”. However her husband and second son were prevented by Ms. Manatunga from speaking to him, our correspondent reported.

Dr. M.N. Ruhul Haq, the Badulla Hospital’s Judicial Medical Officer, who conducted the post mortem, said in his report that death had been caused by internal haemorrhage due to abnormality in a blood vessel. He has said there was no evidence of violence.

The JMO has also contested the cause of death contained in the hospital report. It has declared that death was due to encephalitis.

Meanwhile, IUSF convenor Premaratne said the victim had made a statement to the Badulla hospital police post on admission that he had been assaulted by the Police. Earlier the Buttala Police had refused to entertain his statement.

Mr. Premaratne said there were at least three other students who were present at the time when he made the statement to the police.

He claimed that victim Bandara’s mother had been under pressure from the Police to claim that her son had been assaulted by another student, a claim denied by the police.

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