Military assaults Sri Lanka protesters as Rajapaksa-loyalists form new govt

Colombo, July 22 (EFE).- Lawmaker Dinesh Gunawardena was sworn in Friday as Sri Lanka’s new prime minister with 17 ministers after a brutal military crackdown on anti-government protesters in Colombo.

The new cabinet took oath amid heavy security, a day after Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president of an island nation rocked by months-long protests, sometimes violent, over the worst economic downturns in decades.

In appointing the new government, President Wickremesinghe thus continued with the last cabinet of Rajapaksa loyalists.

A presidential office statement said the only change in the new cabinet compared to the previous one was the appointment of former finance chief Ali Sabri as the new foreign minister.

But the financial trouble and the resulting civil unrest are far from over, as evident from new protests in Colombo after a military assault on demonstrators.

The Sri Lankan army destroyed campsites in a violent crackdown near the Presidential Secretariat, sparking global outrage.

The brutal expulsion of protestors alarmed human rights organizations and the international community, prompting hundreds of residents to take to the streets in the capital.

“We have come to protest against (President) Ranil Wickremesinghe and his use of the military. This is not what we wanted. We are going to continue our protest,” a protester told Efe, requesting anonymity.

The protest movement seemed to have gained momentum after hundreds of soldiers and police personnel tried to take control of the presidential secretariat at the Galle Face in the capital.

Protesters captured the secretariat on July 9 and forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster from the country.

They were still occupying some of its rooms but had promised to withdraw on Friday.

“We are being attacked. We need help,” Protester Manodhya Jayaratne told EFE during the pre-dawn crackdown when the security forces began the crackdown.

“The army arrived around 1.30 am and I think there were about 500 or 1,000 troops. They assaulted us. I was also beaten, and 40 other people were injured,” Jayaratne said.

In a pre-dawn raid, Security forces tried to remove several tents from the Galle Face protest site, the epicenter of the uprising over the acute economic crisis plaguing the country of 22 million people.

Wickremesinghe issued an order to the Armed Forces on Thursday night to prepare “for the maintenance of public order” beginning the next day.

The violence against protesters sparked concern from the international community and the country’s rights organizations.

“Deeply concerned about actions taken against protesters at Galle Face in the middle of the night. We urge restraint,” tweeted United States ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung.

The United Kingdom’s ambassador Sarah Hulton said her country had “made clear the importance of the right to peaceful protest.”

The Sri Lanka Bar Association (BASL) “strongly and unreservedly” condemned using force against protesters.

The association said at least two lawyers “who sought to intervene in their professional capacity had been assaulted by service personnel.”

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