Sri Lankan security forces raid protest camp in Colombo, make 9 arrests

Sri Lankan security forces raid protest camp in Colombo, make 9 arrests

Amid int'l, domestic outcry, US envoy says is 'deeply concerned' with actions against protestors as security forces clear main protest site

By Ahmad Adil

NEW DELHI (AA) - Following weeks of demonstrations, security forces in Sri Lanka arrested nine people as they raided the main protest camp in the capital Colombo early on Friday, a day after acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the new president of the South Asian nation, grappling with its worst financial crisis in recent history.

Police announced that in a joint operation with other security forces, they cleared demonstrators from the Presidential Secretariat building and the road leading to it, both of which were "occupied by the protesters."

Spokesman Nihal Thalduwa told Anadolu Agency that nine people were arrested, while two cases of minor injuries were reported.

Footage emerged on social media showing security forces removing tents at the site near the Presidential palace, where protestors had been gathered for over 100 days.

Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, an Amnesty International researcher based in Colombo, told Anadolu Agency that at the main site, people described "hundreds of security officers" from both the police and military arriving at the protest site where about 200 people were mostly asleep at that time.

"I was told that they (security forces) started attacking the tents without even so much as a warning. Lawyers, journalists, clergy, activists alike attacked," she said.

Sri Lanka's bar association released a statement strongly condemning the use of force by authorities and called for an inquiry into the incident.

"The BASL (Bar Association of Sri Lanka) condemns the attack by the forces on protestors. It is a black day for the country. The attacks happen on the first day in office of the new President. Shame!!," said the association's President Saliya Peiris.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, underlined the need to protect the right to protest.

"Sri Lankan authorities must immediately cease these acts of violence and release those arrested unlawfully in this manner," it wrote on Twitter.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung said she was "deeply concerned about actions taken against protestors."

"We urge restraint by authorities & immediate access to medical attention for those injured," she tweeted.

The EU delegation to the island nation also weighed in on the matter, highlighting on Twitter the "essential" role that freedom of expression had played in the current transition.

"Hard to see how restricting it severely can help in finding solutions to the current political and economic crises."

- New president's appointment

On Wednesday, Wickremesinghe secured 134 votes in the 225-member parliament of the island nation.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned last week amid mass protests. Subsequently, Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the country's interim president.

On July 17, he declared a state of emergency in the country.

Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka after thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in the capital Colombo and set fire to the prime minister's house. Rajapaksa's brother Mahinda had resigned as prime minister in May.

Crippled by a shortage of foreign exchange reserves after the collapse of its tourism-dependent economy, the country of 22 million people has defaulted on all its foreign debt.

It has been unable to pay for food, fuel, and other essentials, with the fuel shortage in turn leading to prolonged daily power cuts. Schools have been closed and state employees asked to work from home.

The government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package, but no deal has been finalized so far.

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