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Sri Lanka judge slams Ranatunga

COLOMBO, March 8 (AFP) - Sri Lanka's cricketing legend Arjuna Ranatunga has been castigated by a judge over allegations he assaulted teenage cricket players, seven of whom ended up in hospital.

Magistrate Kusala Weerawardhana said Ranatunga had committed a "very serious act" unbecoming of a celebrity and warned him to be better behaved.

Press reports here highlighted the judge's comments made late Wednesday after Ranatunga appeared before him following the cricketer's arrest at a local police station.

"As a respectable person in the country you should have behaved in a more decent manner. You should not have acted in this fashion," the Colombo magistrate was quoted as saying in the state-run Daily News.

Ranatunga is accused of beating high school children who chased a cricket ball that went into the compound of the Ranatunga family home Friday evening. The Ranatunga home adjoins the Asoka College in Colombo.

"Children are children. You were also a child. When dealing with children you should have been more careful, as well as a respected person in the country," Weerawardhana said.

Despite his humiliating reprimand, Ranatunga was released on bail of 55,000 rupees (647 dollars) and ordered to reappear in court in a week's time.

Earlier, Colombo magistrate Weerawardhana remanded Ranatunga's elder brother, Prasanna, and four of his staff over the alleged assault on the high school students.

The order follows an incident on Friday in which Rantunga, his politician brother and security guards at their residence allegedly beat up a group of students who had hit a cricket ball into the grounds of the family home.

Seven students, aged 16 to 18, were hospitalised. Six of them have been discharged and one remains in hospital with head injuries.

Ranatunga's father, Reggie Ranatunga, the food minister in President Chandrika Kumaratunga's cabinet, denied his sons had beaten up the students.

Minister Ranatunga said the students had used foul language towards his wife and tried to damage a wall during their attempts to retrieve a cricket ball.

"There is a conspiracy to implicate my children," he said. "I want an impartial inquiry. It is the children from Asoka College who abused and attacked our house."

The College has been shut since Monday because of anti-Ranatunga protests by the students.

Ranatunga, the former captain of the national cricket team and the man who led Sri Lanka to victory in the 1996 World Cup, left for Kenya after the incident and turned himself in to local police when he returned to Colombo.

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