Sri Lanka police clash with protesters outside parliament

Colombo (AFP) - Police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse thousands of opposition-backed protesters outside parliament Saturday as lawmakers debated the annual budget.

Demonstrators led by loyalists of former president Mahinda Rajapakse held up traffic and blocked the main access to the parliament complex for several hours in the capital.

Opposition lawmaker Ranjith Soysa said protesters were demanding local elections which were due last year, but postponed to devise a new electoral system.

"Police unleashed a vicious teargas attack and 10 opposition MPs, including myself, were hit," Soysa said in parliament while pointing to his drenched clothing.

The latest police clash follows a protest by private bus operators and taxi drivers who stopped work over a proposed 50-fold increase in traffic fines in a bid to make Sri Lankan roads safer.

During the bus and taxi strike, police fired teargas to disperse drivers who were holding up traffic along a main highway outside Colombo.