About 1,000 Sri Lankans who lost their homes to Asia's tsunami have overrun government land in the island's east and vowed on Monday to stay until they are built new homes from more than $3 billion in aid the state received.
Police said the group had put up shelters in the grounds of the divisional secretariat at Kalmunai in the eastern district of Ampara, which was ravaged by the Dec. 2004 tsunami.
"The protesters are demanding a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse and the government agent in the area is making arrangements to set up a meeting," said Nihal Karunaratne, Deputy Inspector-General of Police.
Residents staged a general shutdown in the area on Monday in a show of support for those displaced, who said they had nowhere else to move to.
"We were living in temporary shelters put up in a private block of land for the past year, but now the owner asked for the land we have no other place to go," said 35-year-old fisherman M.H.A. Wahid by telephone from Kalmunai.
"The government received billions of rupees as aid but we are still in welfare centres without a house," he added. "All we want is for someone to take notice of our problem."
The tsunami killed more than 35,000 people along Sri Lanka's shores, wiping out entire towns and villages, and more than a year on, the government and aid agencies have built only a fraction of the number of permanent houses needed for tens of thousands of displaced survivors.