Lanka troops raid main protest camp
Sri Lankan security forces raided and partially cleared the main protest camp occupying government grounds in Colombo early yesterday, fuelling fears that President Ranil Wickremesinghe had launched a crackdown a day after being sworn in.
Media footage showed soldiers in riot gear and armed with assault rifles tearing down the camp, set up in April by protesters enraged by the country's economic collapse and acute shortages of fuel, food and medicine.
Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, was sworn in as president on Thursday after winning a parliamentary vote to succeed Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled to Singapore last week in the wake of massive public protests triggered by the country's worst economic crisis in seven decades.
Chinese President Xi Jinping offered Wickremesinghe his support yesterday.
In his message, Xi said he believes Sri Lanka will be able to move towards economic and social recovery and he is "ready to provide support and assistance to the best of my ability to President Wickremesinghe and the people of Sri Lanka in their efforts", CCTV reported.
Protesters had feared a crackdown was imminent as Wickremesinghe imposed a state of emergency in the country from Monday, when he was the acting head of state, and many regarded him as an ally of Rajapaksa.
Previous emergency regulations have been used to give powers to the military to arrest protesters, and curtail the right to protest.
A representative of the United Nations, and western envoys urged the government to exercise restraint, warning that the use of force could further destabilise the island nation, whose economy desperately needs an International Monetary Fund bailout, having virtually run out of dollars to pay for vital imports.
"Actions that stifle protests and the right to peaceful assembly can worsen economic and political instability in Sri Lanka," said Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the United Nations resident coordinator in Sri Lanka.
US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, said on Twitter: "We urge restraint by authorities and immediate access to medical attention for those injured."
The European Union said freedom of expression was essential for Sri Lanka to transition from its chaos, reports AFP.
Just hours after security forces moved against the protest camp, another Rajapaksa ally, senior lawmaker Dinesh Gunawardena, was sworn in as the new prime minister.
Seventeen other ministers completed the cabinet, with former finance minister Ali Sabry becoming foreign minister, while sources said Wickremesinghe would keep the finance portfolio.
As Wickremesinghe, lawmakers and officials listened to Gunawardena being sworn in at the prime minister's office, uniformed military officers sat on one side of the room, reports Reuters.
Earlier, police said nine people had been arrested following the raid on the protest camp.
Angered by the pre-dawn raids, hundreds of protesters marched from the city's main railway station towards the Galle Face protest site, where they were held back by military and riot police manning barricades.
Opposition politician Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who lost the vote for the presidency, said on Twitter: "Let's bring down the brutal ... regime that viciously attacked the protesters at Galle Face".