Sri Lanka crisis: Military uses force against protesters, dismantles tents
Hundreds of Sri Lankan army personnel and police stormed the major anti-government demonstration camp in the capital city, Colombo, on Friday. According to AFP, the forces tore down tents of unarmed protesters and used force to remove them from the spot. Notably, protesters were scheduled to leave the location on way to the Presidential Secretariat in afternoon however, forces landed on them hours before.
Why does this story matter?
Sri Lanka is witnessing record inflation and a food & fuel shortage due to a long-term financial crisis that has left the nation bankrupt. The nation's economy has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine crisis, leaving it with $51 billion in foreign debt. After mass civilian protests last week, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to flee the nation and resign.
How did forces begin the action?
According to reports, security personnel armed with batons arrived at 2:00 am and began clearing barricades built up by protestors blocking the Presidential Secretariat's main gate. Earlier this month, protesters took over the official facility. Meanwhile, the police employed loud hailers to order demonstrators to leave. The development comes just hours after Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the new President.
Media entry barred
Armed troops and police barred all entrance points to the Galle Face area, Colombo's landmark front that has been the major anti-government agitation location since April soon after storming the site. "No one can go. Not even the media or lawyers," air force men stationed on Galle Road, which leads to the beachfront, told The Hindu at around 3.00 am.
Warning from new president Wickremesinghe
Wickremesinghe has promised strong action against the protestors, according to AFP. He had also informed them that occupying state premises was unlawful and that if they did not leave on their own, they would be expelled. Wickremesinghe also distinguished between peaceful protesters and "rioters,". He declared that there will be no tolerance in the country for troublemakers.
Why did change of guard happen?
The #GoHomeGota movement supporters had pressed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign. After storming Rajapaksa's palace on July 9, protesters took over the area and roads around it, compelling him to escape and later resign. Following Rajapaksa's resignation, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe assumed temporary leadership until he was approved as the next president in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday.
Opposition condemns use of force on 'peaceful protesters'
Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa termed the action by forces as a "cowardly assault" on peaceful demonstrators. He said the protesters had already promised to leave the locations today. "A useless display of ego and brute force putting innocent lives at risk & endangers Sri Lanka's international image, at a critical juncture," he tweeted. Meanwhile, at least eight people were arrested including lawyers and activists.