Sri Lanka’s ‘protest village’ deserted amid uncertainty over future
By Indira Guerrero
Colombo, Jul 21 (EFE).- Protest songs continue to ring out at Colombo’s Galle Face Green park, which had become the epicenter of Sri Lanka’s citizens’ protests, but the area lay almost completely deserted on Thursday as uncertainty hung over the stir’s future.
Representatives of the LGBT community and disabled war veterans were the only groups which continued to have a meager presence at their tents at the “Gama Village,” as the site for the sit-in protests – situated at the seafront in central Colombo – has come to be known.
“They (those who have left) say they need a break but they’ll be back, that’s what they say. I’m going home tomorrow too, I also need a break” a young LGBT activist told EFE on the condition of anonymity.
The government of newly appointed President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given 72 hours to the protesters to vacate the site and the presidential secretariat, which they had continued to occupy since Jul. 9, when several government buildings were stormed by demonstrators.
At the adjacent secretariat, turned into a library by the protesters, only the thousands of books donated for the library and signs identifying the premises as “the library of love,” remain amid other signs of the long sit-in.
The food and water supplies that reached the campsite every day did not turn up on Thursday, but Farooq, living in one of the protest tents, told EFE that he would not leave the protest site until Wickremesinghe is in office.
“Never, I will not leave until Ranil resigns, I’ll stay. I am not afraid”, Farooq said.
The venue had become a rallying point for protesters who came out on the streets against the government of ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa due to the economic crisis afflicting the country over the past few months. The sit-in completed 104 days on Thursday.
Sri Lanka has been suffering for months from shortages of medicines, food, and fuel, partly due to heavy debts, flawed government policies, and the impact of the pandemic on tourism.
This led to protests breaking out across the island in late March, when thousands of people took to the streets demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation over his mishandling of the economic crisis.
Rajapaksa fled the country earlier this month after his palace was stormed by protesters, but his party and its allies ensured that the presidency passed to Wickremesinghe, who had been appointed as prime minister by Rajapaksa in May.
A young protester at the sit-in claimed that he had been the first to enter Rajapaksa’s official residence and enjoyed the same food as the ex-president.
“This foot you see was the first to enter the palace,” he told EFE on the condition of anonymity, adding that the doors had been left open and “even the food was ready and still hot.”
Soon after Wickremesinghe was elected president by the parliament on Wednesday, the protest site lay almost empty while leaders of the movement told journalists that they would reorganize the protests against the new president, but very few protesters joined a march on the occasion.
An area that served as press room, theater, school, conference room, legal assistance center and many other ways for the protesters, remained abandoned on Thursday.
A campsite called “No Deal Gama,” south of the Gama Village and next to the prime minister’s official residence, was cleared by authorities on Thursday, while the few remaining protesters decided to withdraw after a vote, feeling that their leaders may not return.
As events at the heart of Sri Lanka’s historic popular protests come to a halt, the protest songs continue to play out, while the remaining protesters hope for a miraculous resurgence. EFE