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.
Sri Lanka’s military raided the main protest camp in Colombo overnight, arresting several protest leaders on President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s first day in office.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) July 22, 2022
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.