A demonstrator protests against Sri Lankan security forces, in Colombo on July 22, 2022 (AFP / Arun SANKAR)
Hundreds of Sri Lankan soldiers and police brutally dismantled a camp of anti-government protesters in Colombo before dawn on Friday, sparking international concern over the fate of the opposition to the bankrupt country’s new president. . .
Less than 24 hours after the inauguration of Ranil Wickremesinghe, security forces dressed in riot gear, armed with automatic assault rifles and batons, removed the protesters, dismantled the barricades and surrounded the presidential compound.
It was partially invaded by thousands of demonstrators, precipitating the fall of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, almost two weeks ago.
“The police and security forces moved to evacuate the demonstrators who occupied the Presidential Secretariat (presidential palace), the main gate and the surrounding area”, the police said in a statement, “nine people were arrested” including “two were injured.”
Sri Lankan security forces outside the presidential palace on July 22, 2022 (AFP / Arun SANKAR)
Witnesses saw soldiers arresting scores of people and destroying tents set up along the avenue leading to the presidential palace, while police blocked nearby streets to prevent new demonstrators from arriving in the area.
According to testimonies, soldiers attacked individuals, including journalists, with truncheons as they advanced towards small groups of demonstrators gathered in the camp called “GotaGoGama” (“Village Va-t -en Gota(baya)”)).
This violence has raised the concern of the international community. The European Union states that freedom of expression is essential. “It is difficult to see how severely restricting it will help find solutions to the current political and economic crisis,” the EU delegation in Colombo said.
The American ambassador in Colombo, Julie Chung, said she was “deeply concerned” by this military operation and called on Twitter for the authorities to “show restraint”.
Canadian High Commissioner David McKinnon also said it is “important that the authorities act with prevention and prevention of violence.”
Amnesty International urged the Sri Lankan authorities to respect the opposition and condemned the use of force against journalists, including a BBC photographer, covering the military operation.
Later in the day, President Wickremesinghe met with some diplomats stationed in Colombo.
After this meeting, the American ambassador reiterated on Twitter, his “serious concern about the unnecessary and alarming increase in violence against protesters overnight”. “Now is not the time to suppress citizens,” he said.
– nature of “animals” –
Sri Lankan security forces dismantle barricades erected by protesters near the presidential palace in Colombo on July 22, 2022 (AFP / Arun SANKAR)
Demonstrators have confirmed their intention to continue the protest, but the movement seems to be running out of steam after four months of demonstrations against the authority of the Rajapaksa family.
President Wickremesinghe, elected thanks to the votes of the Rajapaksa party, “is another dictator in the making” estimated the activist Nuzly Hameem, a 28-year-old engineer.
Early protester in the camp, Nirosha Daniel, he shouted at the police: “You behave like animals!”
According to Basantha Samarasinghe, a 45-year-old trade union leader and entrepreneur, “the people want a change in the system” and “parliament must be dissolved” because “it has no public mandate”.
The new president warned on Wednesday night that “instigators” and promised severity if they try to destroy his government.
“If we try to overthrow the government, occupy the office of the president and the office of the prime minister, this is not about democracy, and we will deal with those who have strength,” he said.
On Monday, the then interim president, Mr. Wickremesinghe instituted a state of emergency, empowering the armed forces and the police.
– Rajapaksa’s government lawyer –
Clashes between Sri Lankan security forces and demonstrators, July 22, 2022 in Colombo (AFP / Arun SANKAR)
He inherited a country ravaged by a catastrophic economic crisis, a lack of foreign currency, marked by long-term losses, shortages of food, electricity, fuel and medicine for months.
The head of state, who was elected for the remainder of Mr. Rajapaksa’s mandate that ends in November 2024, appointed on Friday morning, not surprisingly, Dinesh Gunawardena, his childhood friend, as Prime Minister.
The two men, who studied together, had opposing ideological positions on the paper. Mr. Wickremesinghe, pro-Western, is a champion of free trade while Mr. Gunawardena is a staunch Sinhalese nationalist who believes in socialism and state control of the economy.
“We have differences, but we have enough friendship to come together to deal with the main problem of the country, which is the economy,” said Gunawardena to reporters after his inauguration.
The latter, a former Minister of Public Service and ardent supporter of the Rajapaksa family, was sworn in and formed a government, investing hours later.
In this new cabinet can be seen Ali Sabry, Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s personal lawyer, in Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Wickremesinghe, on the other hand, retained the Finance portfolio to continue negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the hope of saving the country, which is crippled by a huge external debt of 51 billion dollars.