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Press

Channel 4 News blocked by mob in Sri Lanka

CorporatePortal

By Jonathan Miller - Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Hundreds of protesters have blocked a train taking a Channel 4 News television crew, in Sri Lanka to cover the Commonwealth heads of government meeting, from travelling to the north of the island.

A team of six journalists left their Colombo hotel to catch an early-morning train to the city of Kilinochchi, in the heart of the former conflict zone.

The team had been tailed by Sri Lankan state intelligence agents on to the train. Five hours north of Colombo, in the city of Anuradhapura, a large mob of pro-government demonstrators met then train and then blocked the tracks, preventing the train – which had hundreds of passengers on board – from continuing. Sri Lankan police say that demonstrators have now also blockaded all the stations between Anuradhapura and Kilinochchi.

The crowd, which accused Channel 4 of accepting funds from the proscribed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (popularly known as the Tamil Tigers), demanded that the journalists return to the capital.

A stand-off ensued, which has now continued for two hours. The demonstrations come two days before Commonwealth heads of government, including David Cameron, arrive in Colombo for a biennial summit.

All protests were banned by the Sri Lankan government in the run-up to the meeting.

‘Free access’

The British high commission in Sri Lanka has been informed of the situation. The editor of Channel 4 News, Ben de Pear, who is on the train, also informed the office of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is reported to have personally invited Channel 4 to visit any part of the country.

“It would seem entirely contrary to the promise of free access to all parts of Sri Lanka, which the president has repeatedly made,” said Mr de Pear. “I do not know why the authorities do not want us to travel north, but we are hearing reports that families of some of the thousands of people who have disappeared in this country have been held in northern Sri Lanka and are reportedly being assaulted by the military. “All this on the day that the foreign secretary, William Hague, arrives in this country.”

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