THE MOVE FOLLOWS MONTHS OF TURMOIL IN THE COUNTRY THAT SAW A NEW PRESIDENT ELECTED.
Sri Lankan security forces raided an anti-government protest camp outside the presidential office in Colombo on Friday. It comes amid a months-long political crisis sparked by a financial meltdown.
“A joint operation involving the military, police and police special forces was launched in the early hours to recover the presidential secretariat from the protesters as they have no legal right to hold it,” police spokesperson Nalin Thalduwa told Reuters news agency.
According to police, the raid led to nine arrests, two of those detained were injured. The organizers of the protest claim that at least 50 people were injured, including several journalists. They also say they planned to hand over the presidential offices peacefully, an intention the police said they had no knowledge of.
The demonstrators accused authorities of a violent crackdown. “They beat us really cruelly,” an activist told Reuters. “Mr Wickremesinghe doesn’t know what democracy is,” he added.
Media footage from the scene appears to show soldiers in riot gear, armed with rifles, marching towards the camp, known as Gota Go Gama, that had been in place since April. The name of the camp makes an apparent reference to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former president, and calls for his resignation.
The move comes after Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president on Thursday after his predecessor fled the country and resigned. Sri Lanka has faced unrest for several months over severe food and fuel shortages and record inflation.
The crisis has been blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic, which cut tourist revenue for the island, and Rajapaksa’s ban on chemical fertilizers, which was a major blow to the agricultural sector.