Early on Friday, Sri Lankan security forces raided the major anti-government protest camp in the nation’s capital, detaining demonstrators and tearing down tents. Hours before they were scheduled to depart the area, hundreds of soldiers and police commandos attacked the demonstrators in front of the presidential buildings in Colombo.
The army beat a BBC video journalist, and one soldier grabbed his phone and deleted videos.
Police have detained nine persons, two of whom had injuries. “Special operation to take [back] control of the presidential secretariat,” was how the police described the incident. One police spokesman claimed to be uninformed of the attack on the BBC journalist when questioned about it. It occurs as Ranil Wickremesinghe takes office as president following the expulsion of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week.
The population has a very low opinion of the former prime minister, Mr. Wickremesinghe, who has threatened to take severe action against protesters.
Separately, on Friday, Dinesh Gunawardena, a prominent politician who is seen as a steadfast Rajapaksa supporter, took the oath as the country’s new prime minister, filling Mr. Wickremesinghe’s prior position. The economic crisis in Sri Lanka has caused months of widespread turmoil, and many people hold the previous administration responsible for the country’s financial woes. After Mr. Wickremesinghe took the oath of office on Thursday, protests had been quiet. Many protesters had said they would give him a chance to guide the nation from its economic crisis despite their great mistrust.
Any attempt to overthrow the government or occupy government buildings, he claimed in remarks made after his inauguration, was “not a democracy; it is against the law.”
Securitypers on nelsurrounded the protest camp on Friday morning and took the building back from the proteters after they had earlier promised to do so. The raid happened early on Friday morning, at 01:00 local time ( 19:30 GMT Thursday). A part of the road leading to the location was afterwards totally shut off by security personnel. About 100 protesters engaged security officers in a standoff near the presidential offices in the afternoon as tensions between the two sides remained low.
When we learned that troops were planning to raid the anti-government protest site in Colombo after midnight, we were alarmed.
We went to a location directly in front of the Sri Lankan president’s office.
Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers and police commandos in riot gear descended from both directions, their faces hidden behind masks.
When activists objected to their presence, security guards marched on and became aggressive. The demonstrators were pushed back. We witnessed soldiers shouting, dismantling, and destroying makeshift tents and other items on the pavement within seconds. Troops have also moved into the president’s office, which was stormed last week by large crowds.
Activists had previously stated that the building would be handed over on Friday afternoon.
We could see the soldiers clearing everything in their path as we followed them. Protesters were pushed up to the designated protest site, which was less than 100m away, and steel barricades were erected to keep the activists at bay. As we were leaving the area, a man dressed in civilian clothes, surrounded by troops, yelled at my colleague and said he wanted to delete the videos from his phone. The man punched my colleague and stole his phone in seconds.