Sri Lankan security forces evict Presidency and main protest encampment | International
When not even 24 hours had elapsed since the new president of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was sworn in on Thursday, the Sri Lankan army and special police forces expelled part of the protesters at dawn this Friday camped in Galle Park in the capital, Colombo. They also vacated the Presidency, occupied since July 9 by the massive popular protest against the previous president. Nine people, including two wounded, have been arrested in the operation, Nalin Thalduwa, a police spokesman, confirmed to Reuters. The organizers of the encampments have denounced that at least 50 protesters were injured during the eviction of the protest that on July 15 forced the flight and subsequent resignation of the former head of state, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the country. since its independence from the UK in 1948.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in Thursday morning as the new president after obtaining the majority of support in Parliament during a secret vote. He replaced his ally Rajapaksa, the main target of the protesters’ anger, who accused him of having personally profited while ordinary Sri Lankans face serious shortages of basic supplies such as fuel and even medicine and food.
However, the arrival at the head of state of the also unpopular Wickremesinghe, who served as prime minister with his predecessor in the presidency, did not augur a return to calm, since the protesters consider him part of the corrupt elite whom they blame for having plundered the country’s resources for their own benefit, for which they had also asked for his resignation. Like then President Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe promised to resign from his post on the 13th, a promise that both failed to keep.
The continuity of allies of the deposed president in the key positions of the State has been reflected again this Friday when another ally of Rajapaksa, the deputy Dinesh Gunawardena, was sworn in as the new prime minister of Sri Lanka, just a few hours after the forces security forces stormed the protest camps. It is expected that the rest of the Executive will swear his position this Friday. One of the main demands of the protesters who have been clamoring for months in the streets of the country, the calling of elections and the renewal of positions of power, remains unfulfilled.
After taking office on Thursday, the newly inaugurated president, who has also assumed the Ministry of Finance, had given a 72-hour ultimatum to those encamped in buildings and official headquarters to leave them. Wickremesinghe issued, also on Thursday, an order to all members of the Armed Forces to prepare to “maintain public order” starting this Friday. On Monday, while he was still interim president – he was appointed to that position by Rajapaksa before Parliament confirmed him as head of state on Thursday – Wickremesinghe had declared a state of emergency, which empowers the military to detain protesters and restrict the right to protest.
These decisions raised fears of a wave of repression that, according to the organizers of the protests, materialized this morning, when hundreds of soldiers and police officers dismantled part of the camp baptized as drop go home (by Gotabaya, first name of the former president), in Galle Park, in the center of Colombo, before heading to the Presidency headquarters to remove those camped there. The country’s media showed images of soldiers in riot gear and armed with assault rifles demolishing the shops in that park, which has become the epicenter of the protests, raised in April by protesters enraged by the country’s bankruptcy situation. According to protest organizer Manjula Samarasekara, the officers assaulted the protesters.
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“We are being attacked, we need help,” one of the protesters, Manodhya Jayaratne, confirmed to the Efe news agency at around 2:30 local time (10:30 p.m. on Thursday in Spanish peninsular time), when the eviction operation began. “They beat us very cruelly,” Buddhika Abeyrathne, 34, who witnessed the raid, told Reuters. “Mr Wickremesinghe does not know what democracy is.”
Following the raids, hundreds of protesters marched from the city’s train station to Galle Face Park, where they were held back by military and riot police, who had erected barricades to block the crowd. “This is the face of Ranil Wickremesinghe. On his first day [en la presidencia] has already used the armed forces,” Rajeevkanth Rajkumar, CEO of a construction company, told Reuters, “We don’t want more innocent people to be injured, but we will go to that site [el lugar de la protesta] at any price,” he added.
The Sri Lanka Bar Association has warned that the crackdown could destabilize the country, pending a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. “The use of the armed forces to suppress civil protests on the first day of the new president’s term is despicable and will have serious consequences for the social, economic and political stability of our country,” the lawyers’ group said in a statement.
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