Sri Lanka protesters to end occupation of official buildings

They confirm that they will continue their struggle



Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

By Qadijah Irshad

Published: Thu 14 Jul 2022, 10:52 AM

Last updated: Thu 14 Jul 2022, 1:58 PM

Protesters on Thursday announced they will hand over government buildings they took over during the week, demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and acting president and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe step down.

On Thursday afternoon, protesters stopped allowing visitors in and started cleaning up the buildings to hand them over to government authorities.

"We are peacefully withdrawing from all buildings except the old parliament (the president's office) and Galle Face (the seafront promenade and location of the protest site)," a spokesperson for The Struggle movement group, spearheading the protests told reporters on Thursday.

"We will continue to remain in these places, we will continue to protest until we reach our goals."

In a dramatic turn of events this week, thousands of protesters stormed in and took over some of Sri Lanka's most iconic buildings, including the presidential palace, the presidential secretariat and the prime minister's office.

The protesters, who have been agitating for months for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his family members and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to quit, said taking over the buildings were fuelled by "people power".

"We have had enough of corruption, enough of lies, we don't have food to eat and our children are dying of hunger," said Rukshan Samaraweera, a farmer who had lost his livelihood as the country's economy took a nosedive in the past year.

Samaraweera, who travelled over 200 kilometres from Anuradhapura to Colombo to join the protests, blames the president for the dire economic straits of the nation that is fast running out of food, fuel and medicine.

Despite protesters demanding the resignation of the president and the prime minister, Rajapaksa, who fled the country on Wednesday remains president until he resigns. Meanwhile, he has appointed Wickremesinghe, who the public believes works hand in glove with the corrupt Rajapaksa family, as acting president.

"We still want both of them out, but we have decided to withdraw from the sites because it was not our intention to take over them in the first place," Lakmali Maddage, a member of the Aragalaya, or The Struggle movement, that spearheaded the protests.

The movement said that the buildings would be handed over during the course of the day.

"We believe in peaceful protests. We don't believe in destruction, fire or looting. Even taking over of the buildings happened at the spur of the moment with thousands of public behind us. It's time for us to leave the buildings and hand it back to the government. We don't need to resort to violence because the whole of Sri Lanka is on our side," she said.

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