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Security forces dismantle Sri Lanka’s main protest camp

#Security #forces #dismantle #Sri #Lankas #main #protest #camp

Sri Lankan security forces raided and dismantled the main anti-government protest camp in the capital Colombo early Friday, evicting activists who had gathered outside the President’s office.

The raid came a day after veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe – who pledged a crackdown on protesters – was sworn in as the new president of the crisis-hit country, replacing Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who protesters forced to resign.

Troops armed with riot gear and police squads pounced on the protesters blockading the presidential secretariat in the capital hours before they were due to evacuate the area.

Hundreds of soldiers removed barricades erected by protesters blocking the main gate of the presidential secretariat, which protesters partially overran earlier this month. An armored personnel carrier was also seen in the area.

Activists had announced that they would hand over the building, a symbol of state authority, on Friday afternoon after Wickremesinghe had sworn in a cabinet.

The cabinet, which is expected to include a cross-section of political parties, faces the difficult task of leading the country out of the worst economic crisis since independence from Britain.

Witnesses saw soldiers surround the seaside presidential office and remove makeshift structures that had been built in the area since early April to provide logistics for thousands of anti-government protesters.

Security forces used megaphones and told a few hundred protesters to retreat and confine themselves to a designated protest spot near the Secretariat.

Several activists were arrested by troops who destroyed tents that had been set up along the main road leading to the President’s office.

Police cordoned off the main roads leading into the area to prevent more people from joining the protesters.

– Warning to protesters –

Supporters of the #GoHomeGota campaign, urging Rajapaksa to step down, had taken over the area after capturing his palace on July 9, forcing him to flee and eventually resign.

After Rajapaksa resigned, six-time prime minister Wickremesinghe temporarily took over the reins until he was confirmed as the new president in a parliamentary vote on Wednesday.

Wickremesinghe had warned protesters that occupying state buildings was illegal and that they would be evicted if they did not go alone.

“If you’re trying to overthrow the government, to occupy the office of the President and the Prime Minister, that’s not democracy, it’s against the law,” he said, making a distinction between peaceful protesters and “troublemakers” who engage in unlawful engage in behavior.

The new president has also declared a state of emergency, giving the armed forces and police sweeping powers to arrest suspects and hold them for long periods without charge.

On Wednesday, a court ordered protesters to evacuate part of their camp and confine themselves to a designated area only.

Protesters have accused Wickremesinghe of being a proxy to the former president’s powerful family – an accusation he has denied.

“I am not a friend of the Rajapaksas,” he told reporters at Gangaramaya Temple. “I am a friend of the people.”

A foreign exchange crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic and exacerbated by mismanagement has left Sri Lanka suffering from protracted power outages and record high inflation.

The country’s 22 million people have also suffered months of food, fuel and medicine shortages.

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