• Thu. Dec 8th, 2022

Sri Lankan security forces raid protest camp as new leaders are sworn in

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Jul 22, 2022
  • Nine people arrested after pre-dawn raid released on bail
  • Prime Minister, new cabinet sworn in
  • Wickremesinghe set to keep his financial portfolio
  • UN says crackdown could deepen instability

COLOMBO, July 22 (Reuters) – Sri Lankan security forces raided a protest camp occupying government land in Colombo on Friday morning and partially evacuated it, stoking fears that President Ranil Wickremesinghe could launched a campaign of repression one day after taking the oath.

Media footage showed soldiers in riot gear and armed with assault rifles demolishing the camp, set up in April by protesters exasperated by the country’s economic collapse and severe shortages of fuel, food and of drugs.

Six-time prime minister Wickremesinghe was sworn in on Thursday after winning a parliamentary vote to succeed Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled to Singapore last week following massive public protests sparked by Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis in seven decades. Read more

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“A joint operation involving the army, police and police special forces was launched in the early hours of the morning to recover the presidential secretariat from the protesters because they have no legal right to hold it,” the doorman told Reuters. – police spokesperson, Nalin Thalduwa.

Nine people arrested in the pre-dawn raid were later released on bail by a Colombo court, police said.

Protesters had feared a crackdown after Wickremesinghe, as interim head of state, imposed a nationwide state of emergency on Monday. Many consider him an ally of Rajapaksa.

Previous emergency regulations have been used to give the military the power to arrest protesters and restrict the right to demonstrate.

CALLS FOR DETENTION

A United Nations official and Western envoys urged the government to exercise restraint, saying the use of force could further destabilize the island nation, whose economy desperately needs a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, being practically out of dollars to pay for vital imports. Read more

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung said she met with the new president to express “serious concern” over the violence against protesters in Colombo on Friday.

“Now is not the time to crack down on citizens, but rather to consider the immediate and tangible steps the government can take to regain the trust of the people, restore stability and rebuild the economy,” Chung said in a statement. a tweet.

Just hours after security forces moved into the protest camp, another Rajapaksa ally, senior lawmaker Dinesh Gunawardena, was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new prime minister.

Seventeen other ministers completed the cabinet, with former finance minister Ali Sabry becoming foreign minister, while sources said Wickremesinghe would retain the finance portfolio.

As Wickremesinghe, lawmakers and officials listened as Gunawardena was sworn in at the prime minister’s office, uniformed military officers sat on one side of the room.

Angered by the pre-dawn raids, hundreds of protesters marched from the city’s main train station to the Galle Face protest site, where army and riot police erected barricades restraining them.

“The very first day he used the armed forces – that’s the face of Ranil Wickremesinghe,” said Rajeevkanth Rajkumar, a construction company executive who was among the protesters. “We don’t want innocent people hurting anymore. But we will go to this place (the protest site) at all costs.”

Opposition politician Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who lost the vote for the presidency, said on Twitter: “Let’s bring down the brutal regime… which violently attacked the protesters at Galle Face”.

‘CONTEMPTIBLE’

Shortly after midnight on Friday, hundreds of security personnel surrounded the ‘Gota Go Gama’ protest camp, mockingly named after Rajapaksa, then began demolishing tents in front of the secretariat, according to protest organizers .

Security forces appear to have taken control of the entire secretariat, which was seized earlier this month by protesters along with the official residences of the president and prime minister. The residences were then returned to government authorities.

At least 50 protesters were injured in Friday’s clashes, organizers said, including some journalists beaten by security forces. According to hospital sources, two people have been hospitalized.

“They beat us really badly,” said Buddhika Abeyrathne, 34, a protester who witnessed the raid but did not appear hurt himself. “Mr Wickremesinghe does not know what democracy is.”

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Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Written by Devjyot Ghoshal and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Simon Cameron-Moore and Gareth Jones

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