Brutal crackdown begins in Sri Lanka

Less than 24 hours after he was sworn is the new president of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe set in motion just what I feared, a brutal crackdown on the largely peaceful protest movements. In a predawn attack early Friday morning at around 1:00 am, a large number of police and military units descended upon the protest camp that had been set in front of the president’s office and attacked protestors, journalists, lawyers, and other observers, injuring many who had to be hospitalized. They also destroyed the camp site.

Here is a BBC reporter whose colleague was also attacked.

Here is a detailed report from a local TV station.

The actions of the government have received widespread international condemnation from governments and human rights groups.

Wickremesinghe became president only because the protestors drove the corrupt and authoritarian Rajapaksa family out of office. But the Rajapaksa family is believed to be behind the move to make Wickremesinghe president so that he can protect them and their ill-gotten gains from retribution. It looks like he is also seeking revenge on their behalf by attacking the protestors. Wickremesinghe has also appointed Dinesh Gunawardena, another ally of the disgraced Rajapaksa family, as prime minister further cementing the belief that the new government is just the old with a facade, and appointed an 18-member cabinet of all men.

It is clear that what we are witnessing is an attempt to suppress the protests by force.

Gunawardena’s appointment came several hours after security forces made several arrests and cleared a protest camp near the presidential palace in Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days.

Sri Lankan security forces demolished the main anti-government site, evicting activists in a night-time assault that raised international concern.

Troops wielding batons and armed with automatic assault rifles swooped in on protesters blocking the presidential secretariat.

Hundreds of soldiers and police Special Task Force commandos removed the demonstrators’ barricades outside the sea-front building, while the last remaining protesters on the premises – some still on the steps – were evicted.

By morning, the troops – armed with automatic assault rifles – surrounded the complex and the main roads leading to the area remained cordoned off.

The protestors had earlier issued a statement that they were going to vacate the area on Friday afternoon, making this attack unnecessary. It looks like Wickremesinghe is doing what all weak leaders without a popular mandate but with authoritarian tendencies do, use the brute power of the state military in lieu of legitimacy.

Will he succeed in suppressing the protests using sheer force? It is true that after 104 days of such protests, the people must be weary, and there has to be a sense of anti-climax that after succeeding in removing the Rajapaksa family, thought to be firmly entrenched, from power, only to then see them maneuvering behind the scenes to put their puppets in power. The spokespersons of the protest have said that their struggle will continue and have vowed to drive ‘Ranil Rajapaksa’ out of office, saying that if they could get rid of the king, they can surely get rid of the kings’s servant. Furthermore, the objective conditions that triggered the protests, the widespread shortages of fuel, food, and medicine still exist and that is what gave the protest such energy.


  1. John Morales says

    As long as the hunger and deprivation continue, the peasants will revolt.

    (An old truism)

  2. Matt G says

    The same script gets used time and time again. It like that Himmler (?) about how you get a country to go to war.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Matt G @ # 4: … Himmler (?) …

    Herman Goering:

    “Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or fascist dictorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

  4. lorn says

    Regrettable, but predictable and, if violence is the method, it makes sense it would be used on day-one.

    It works like this:
    Violence was always a possibility and has been understood to be part of the mix: His supporters were always okay with this. Those against him weren’t going to be converted to backers by a failure to commit violence because it always remains part of the mix.

    Doing it early maximizes the time remaining to get people to change sides.

    Violence up front highlights any upcoming non-violent developments and concessions to opposition parties while cementing his standing with hard-liners. It secures his right flank and makes it clear he doesn’t need to make concessions while emphasizing the generosity of any olive branches.

    I’m not saying violence, in this case, is wise or effective. In the long run violence tends to backfire, if not effectively managed and framed, by building opposition. I am saying in real-world politics it is not unexpected, or entirely illogical.

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