Colombo, July 22 (EFE).- The Sri Lankan army Friday morning destroyed campsites and assaulted demonstrators in a violent crackdown near the Presidential Secretariat, sparking global outrage and more furious protests in the crisis-hit island nation.
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 (the newly appointed 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.
The protesters captured the secretariat on July 9. 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.
The 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.
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 by authorities (and) immediate access to medical attention for those injured,” the United States ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, tweeted.
The United Kingdom’s ambassador to the island nation, 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 the use of force against protesters.
“It is apparent that hundreds of military personnel and police had blocked the access to Galle Face and prevented the public from entering the area. Attorneys-at-Law who tried to enter the area have been prevented from doing so by force personnel,” the organization said in a statement.
The association said at least two lawyers “who sought to intervene in their professional capacity had been assaulted by service personnel.”
The future of the protests in Colombo is uncertain.
Wickremesinghe was sworn in on Thursday morning as the country’s new president, a day after he won a parliamentary ballot.
He replaced the ousted Gotabaya Rajapaksa, accused of deepening the economic crisis.
Rajapaksa stepped down and fled the country last week after months-long demonstrations demanding his resignation.
Since the end of March, thousands of people have taken to the streets as the country faces its worst economic crisis since independence from the British Empire in 1948.