COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lankan security forces raided a protest camp occupying government grounds in the main city of Colombo early on Friday and cleared out a section of it, a sign that the country’s new president was cracking down a day after his swearing-in.
Army and police personnel arrived in trucks and buses around midnight, removing tents and protest banners at the site near the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days. They blocked off roads leading to the site and carried long poles.
The security forces were witnessed beating up at least two journalists. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main lawyers’ body in the country, also said at least two lawyers were assaulted when they went to the protest site to offer their counsel. Its statement Friday called for a halt to the “unjustified and disproportionate actions” of armed forces against civilians.
“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. “Nine people, including two injured, have been arrested.”
Protesters had feared a crackdown was imminent under new President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was seen as an ally of his ousted predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Protest organizers said hundreds of security personnel surrounded the “Gota Go Gama” protest camp, mockingly named after Rajapaksa, after midnight and then took apart a section of it.
As daylight broke, dozens of troops marched through the area and rows of protest tents that stood on both sides of the main road that passes in front of the office of the president completely cleared out. Dozens of protesters stood by, looking at newly set up barricades and security personnel.
At least 50 protesters were injured, the organizers said, including some journalists who were beaten by security forces. Hospital sources said two were hospitalized.