Sri Lanka: protest camp dismantled, concerns for dissent

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Sri Lanka: protest camp dismantled, concerns over dissent

Protesters near Parliament in Colombo

Hundreds of Sri Lankan soldiers and police brutally dismantled shortly before dawn on Friday the camp of anti-government protesters in Colombo, sparking international concern over the fate of dissent by the bankrupt country's new president.

Less than 24 hours after Ranil Wickremesinghe's inauguration, security forces in riot gear, armed with automatic assault rifles and batons, dislodged protesters, dismantled barricades and surrounded the presidential compound.

It had been partially invaded by thousands of demonstrators, precipitating the fall of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, almost two weeks ago.

Police and security forces acted to evacuate protesters occupying the [presidential palace], the main gate and the surrounding area, police said in a statement, nine people were arrested, two of whom were injured.

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Witnesses saw soldiers arresting several people and destroying the tents erected along the avenue leading to the presidential palace, while the police blocked the adjacent streets to prevent further protesters from entering. #x27;get there.

According to testimonies, soldiers attacked individuals, including journalists, with truncheons as they advanced towards small groups of demonstrators gathered at the encampment called GotaGoGama (Village Va-t-en Gota(baya) ).

This violence has aroused the concern of the international community. The European Union (EU) reiterated that freedom of expression is essential. It is hard to see how severely restricting it can help find solutions to the current political and economic crises, the EU delegation in Colombo said.

The US Ambassador to Colombo, Julie Chung, has expressed on Twitter her grave concern over the needless and very disturbing escalation in violence against protesters overnight. This is not the time to crack down on citizens, she stressed, after a meeting between President Wickremesinghe and several diplomats stationed in Colombo.

Canadian High Commissioner David McKinnon also said it was crucial that the authorities act with restraint and avoid violence.

Amnesty International has urged Sri Lankan authorities to respect dissent and condemned the use of force against journalists, including a BBC photographer, who were covering the incident. military operation.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 50 people were injured during the operation, which the NGO believes sends a dangerous message to the people of Sri Lanka that the new government has the power to do so. intent to act by brute force rather than by legal means.

The demonstrators declared their intention to continue the protest, but the movement seemed to be losing steam after four months of demonstrations against the authority of the Rajapaksa clan.

New President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in on Thursday

President Wickremesinghe elected by vote of the Rajapaksa party, is another would-be dictator, said activist Nuzly Hameem, a 28-year-old engineer.

Early protester on the camp, Nirosha Daniel, she yelled at the police: You behaved like animals!

According to Basantha Samarasinghe, union leader and 45-year-old businessman, people want a change of system and parliament should be dissolved as it has no public mandate.

The new president had warned troublemakers on Wednesday evening and promised severity if they tried to disrupt his government.

If we try to overthrow the government, occupy the president's office and the prime minister's office, it is not democracy, and we will deal with those with firmness, he said.

On Monday, then still interim president, Mr. Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency, granting the armed forces and the police sweeping powers.

He inherits a country ravaged by a catastrophic economic crisis, short of foreign currency, marked by long blackouts, shortages of food, electricity, fuel and medicine for months . The Head of State, elected for the remaining period of Mr. Rajapaksa's mandate which ends in November 2024, on Friday morning, unsurprisingly, appointed Dinesh Gunawardena, his childhood friend, as first minister.

The two men, who studied together, have diametrically opposed ideological positions on 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 over 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 Mr. Gunawardena to journalists shortly after his investiture. The latter, former Minister of Public Service and fervent supporter of the Rajapaksa clan, was sworn in and formed a government, invested a few hours later.

In this new cabinet appears Ali Sabry, the personal lawyer of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in Foreign Affairs. Wickremesinghe, meanwhile, kept the Finance portfolio to continue negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the hope of bailing out the country, undermined by a colossal foreign debt of 51 billion dollars.

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