Sri Lankan opposition attacked inside Parliament

BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI
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Sri Lanka's ruling party lawmakers, left, scuffle with opposition lawmakers, right, during a budget speech by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. Opposition lawmakers walked out after the attack. It was not immediately clear whether anyone was injured.(AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Lawmakers from Sri Lanka's ruling party attacked opposition members who were protesting inside Parliament on Monday as President Mahinda Rajapaksa presented next year's budget.

Opposition United National Party legislators tried to hold up placards protesting the proposed budget, which they said did not contain enough measures to ease the economic burden of the people. They were surrounded by ruling party lawmakers who punched them and grabbed the placards, resulting in a brawl.

Opposition lawmakers walked out after the attack.

"Today our Parliament became a symbol of lawlessness," opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told reporters. "We had to leave the chamber for our safety. What wrong did we commit?"

Rajapaksa's ruling coalition has more than a two-thirds majority in the 225-seat legislature and is expected to approve the budget. There was no immediate comment from the government on the incident.

Rajapaksa, who is also minister of finance, said the budget deficit will decline next year as a percent of GDP because of his government's economic management.

He said next year's projected budget deficit of $4.2 billion would be 6.8 percent of GDP, compared to a deficit of 8 percent of GDP in 2010. Virtually all of the deficit, he said, was the result of development and welfare expenditures that would "contribute toward long-term development of the country while addressing many facets of poverty."

The proposed budget calls for total government expenditures of $14.5 billion and projected revenues of $10.2 billion.

He said the deficit will be covered by domestic savings and foreign borrowing.