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Opposition lawmakers protest arrest of ex-Cabinet minister

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — About 200 opposition lawmakers and supporters protested in Sri Lanka's capital on Monday to condemn the arrest of a former Cabinet minister whose political defection in 2014 triggered the fall of the government led by the brother of the current president.

The protesters carried torches and candles as they urged the authorities to release Patali Champika Ranawaka. He was arrested last week over a 2016 traffic accident in which a young motorcyclist was seriously injured.

A court has ordered his detention pending an investigation.

Opposition lawmaker Akila Viraj Kariyawasam called Ranwaka's arrest politically motivated.

“We will fight against the government's attempt to hunt down opposition politicians. We will bring the people into the roads and fight against this government,” he said.

Ranawaka was Sri Lanka's urban development minister before the election of current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Nov. 16. He was arrested last week at the direction of the attorney general.

Nishara Jayaratne, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said last week that Ranawaka was arrested on suspicion of committing a rash and neglect act causing grievous injury and then switching drivers.

Ranawaka has said he was not in the car when the accident happened and that the motorcyclist hit the vehicle while his chauffeur was driving it. He said the case was closed with a fine issued to his chauffeur but that the country's new government reopened it for political revenge.

Ranawaka also was a Cabinet member in the government of Rajapaksa's brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. His defection in 2014 triggered the fall of that government.

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