International human rights groups urged on SaturdaySecurity forces were immediately ordered to stop using force against protesters after soldiers and police evacuated their main camp after months of demonstrations over the country’s economic slowdown.
Hundreds of armed soldiers raided a protest camp outside the presidential office in the early hours of Friday, a day after President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in, attacking protesters with batons. Human Rights Watch said the action “sends a dangerous message to the people of Sri Lanka that the new government intends to act through brute force rather than the rule of law.”
In this action, the soldiers also attacked two journalists and two lawyers. Security forces have arrested 11 people, including protesters and lawyers.
“The urgent need to address the economic needs of Sri Lankans calls for a government that respects fundamental rights,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Sri Lanka’s international partners must send the message loud and clear that they cannot support an administration that tramples on the rights of its people.”
Condemning the attack, Amnesty International said, “It is shameful that the new government resorted to such violent tactics within hours of coming to power.”
Kyle Ward, the group’s deputy general secretary, said, “Protesters have the right to demonstrate peacefully. The use of excessive force, intimidation and unlawful arrests appears to be an endlessly repetitive pattern in which Sri Lankan authorities respond to dissent and peaceful gathering.” ”
Wickremesinghe, who had previously served as prime minister six times, was sworn in as president a week after his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fled the country. Rajapaksa later resigned during exile in Singapore.
Sri LankanTo demand its top leaders step down to take responsibility for the economic chaos that has plagued the country’s 22 million people with a shortage of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food. While protesters have focused on Rajapaksa’s family, Wickremesinghe has also vented his anger over the alleged Rajapakse surrogate.
Armed forces and police arrived in trucks and buses on Friday to clear the main protest camp in the capital Colombo, although protesters had announced they would vacate the site voluntarily.
Sri Lanka’s opposition, the United Nations and the United States have condemned the government’s heavy-handed strategy.
Despite tight security outside the President’s office, the protesters have vowed to continue till Wickremesinghe resigns.
On Friday, he appointed Rajapaksa’s aide Dinesh Gunavardhan as prime minister.
Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency as acting president on Monday to quell the protests. Hours after taking oath, he issued a notice to the armed forces to maintain law and order – paving the way for a move against the protest camp.
Protesters accused Rajapaksa and his powerful family of extorting money from the state exchequer and hastening the country’s collapse by mismanaging the economy. The family has denied allegations of corruption, but the former president acknowledged that some of his policies contributed to Sri Lanka’s crisis.
Political turmoil has threatened rescue efforts from the International Monetary Fund. Still, earlier this week, Wickremesinghe said bailout talks were nearing a conclusion.
The head of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, told Japanese financial magazine Nikkei Asia this week that the IMF expects a deal “as soon as possible”.