Sri Lankan military stormed in and took over the Galle Face protest site facing the presidential office in Colombo during the early hours of Friday morning.
Large contingencies of military swept in, dismantled tents and arrested protesters.
Social media posts show a tense situation with threatening military men swarming the seafront promenade that has been the centre of a 113-day peaceful protest by Sri Lankans who have been demanding that the Rajapaksas, and newly elected president Ranil Wickremesinghe leave.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) today condemned the use of “unnecessary use” of brute force by the military.
“Whilst the details are sketchy, I am also told that several people have been arrested. I am also being told of people having been assaulted,” he said in a brief message, early morning.
The BASL President said that the authorities must ensure the safety of everyone and their whereabouts must be made known.
Wickremesinghe has imposed an emergency law on the island nation that has been riddled by protests over the crashing economy, for which the people blame the government. The emergency law gives the military sweeping powers including the power to arrest and detain without warrant. In the past, civilians arrested under the emergency have disappeared, sometimes for years.
The phones of protesters who have been residing at the site since its inception were switched off since early morning.
Numbers at the protest site that swelled into thousands over the past few months dropped to less than a hundred after Wickremesinghe was voted in as president in a secret ballot in Parliament.
On Thursday protesters told Khaleej Times they were “afraid for their lives” after Wickremesinghe took over as president.
“He (Wickremesinghe) wants to remove us. Maybe with our lives,” Shenesh Dikmaduwanage, a protester who has been living at the protest site since its inception told Khaleej Times on Thursday.
“We want to go on fighting, but we are afraid now,” said Nilan Weerakoon, another protester.
Frustrated Sri Lankans who have lost access to basic necessities including food, medicine and fuel have taken to the streets in mass protests this year. They blame the mismanagement and corruption by the Rajapaksa family, and Wickremesinghe, who they perceive to be a Rajapaksa protector, for the plight of the nation.
In May, a peaceful protest at Galle Face turned violent when paid Rajapaksa supporters attacked protesters, who in turn stormed in and took over then prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official residence, resulting in his resignation.
This month, thousands of protesters took over several government buildings including the presidential palace, the presidential office and the prime minister’s office whilst Wickremesinghe was sitting prime minister. All the buildings were returned to the government except the presidential office, which the military has now taken back.
Soon after the mass protest, Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the island and resigned as president, making way for Wickremesinghe to be voted in.
Military spokesperson Brig. Nilantha Premeratne was not available for comment.
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