Conflicts & War

Sri Lankan president meets diplomats after outrage over crackdown on protests

Colombo, April 24 (EFE).- Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday met representatives from western countries after widespread outrage over the security forces violently removing protesters from the presidential secretariat on Friday.

During the meeting Wickremesinghe told the diplomats that his government was “committed to upholding rights of peaceful, non-violent assembly,” according to a press statement by the president’s media unit, which did not reveal the names of the diplomats present.

However, the president insisted that the protesters who had occupied the presidential office and were refusing to vacate it were violating the law by interfering with the purposes the property was designed for.

Protesters had stormed the secretariat on Jul. 9 along with the residences of the president and prime minister, and forced ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country, after which he resigned.

Demonstrators had continued to occupy the office symbolically, despite vacating the official residences, and turned into a library, but early on Friday the police took the military’s help to reoccupy the building in an operation that left several protesters injured.

The authorities’ violence was condemned by several countries and international bodies, including the United States, United Kingdom and the United Nations, and surprised the protesters, who had agreed to vacate the premises voluntarily on the same day.

They also accused the security forces of trying to dismantle the main campsite of the protests, situated in front of the secretariat, although the police denied this in a press conference on Saturday.

In this regard, Wickremesinghe said that measures were being taken “to ensure that non-violent protests were allowed to proceed within the city without endangering property or lives,” as per the statement.

It added that the government has offered other spaces in Colombo for non-violent protests, such as an open-air theater and several parks.

The protest site, which came up in April as the epicenter of the protests against Rajapaksa, is attracting fewer and fewer protesters as they lose hopes of a change after Wickremesinghe – seen as close to Rajapaksa – was elected president by the parliament.

However, dozens of protesters remain at the site and some leaders on Sunday held a press conference that they would continue to resist and demand Wickremesinghe’s resignation from the camp. EFE


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