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Ranatunga in court appearance over assault charge

COLOMBO, March 14 (AFP) - Sri Lanka's cricketing legend Arjuna Ranatunga appeared at a packed court house here Wednesday to answer charges that he, his brother and several others assaulted teenage cricket players.

Magistrate Kusala Weerawardhana ordered bail for Ranatunga's brother, Prasanna, and four members of their household staff, but remanded a man who had come to witness the hearing.

The man was identified as a gunman who fired in the air and assaulted teenage boys of the Asoka College, which is located next to the Ranatunga home here in Colombo.

The magistrate remanded the man, identified as Prasanna Gunasekara till March 21 and ordered the police to speedily carry out an investigation. She fixed a further hearing for May 25.

Arjuna Ranatunga himself was granted bail last week.

The magistrate ordered the Ranatunga family and friends as well as the victims and their families and sympathisers to maintain peace. "Otherwise those who break the peace will be remanded," Weerawardhana said.

She warned suspects not to attempt to influence witnesses as heavily armed police guarded the court house amid tense scenes with bandaged victims of the attack coming to court escorted by their parents and teachers.

The magistrate had earlier slammed Ranatunga and said he had committed a "very serious act" unbecoming of a celebrity and warned him to be better behaved.

"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 magistrate said during the previous hearing.

Ranatunga is accused of beating high school children who chased a cricket ball that went into the compound of the Ranatunga family home.

The Ranatunga home adjoins the Asoka College in Colombo.

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

Seven students, aged 16 to 18, were hospitalised after the attack.

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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