Military raids on protest camps in Sri Lanka, leaders arrested | Protests News

Colombia, Sri Lanka – The Sri Lankan army took control of the presidential secretariat in the capital after “brutally attacking” the demonstrators.

Soldiers also destroyed tents at the adjacent GotaGoGama protest site, arrested several protest leaders and cordoned off the area with around 100 protesters.

The military assault came hours after protesters withdrew from the camp in front of Temple Trees, the prime minister’s official residence. The protesters had already announced their intention to withdraw from the presidential secretariat on July 22.

“Around midnight, we heard that a huge military contingent was heading towards GotaGoGama and we suddenly saw them rushing towards the presidential secretariat,” Nipun Charaka Jayasekara, a young protester locked up in GotaGoGama, told Al Jazeera.

“Soon after, they cordoned off the area and brutally assaulted the peaceful protesters as if we were thugs.”

He was lightly injured, he said, as he tried to flee military repression.

As the military attack began, Jayasekara broadcast it live, but then lost his smartphone in the chaos.

“Some were very seriously assaulted; inhumanly assaulted as if they had no heart. We have nowhere to go now. We are locked in GotaGoGama. I have nothing now; not even my phone. I am now using an old phone now. I only have my clothes left,” he said.

It is estimated that around 10 protesters were seriously injured after being attacked.

The assault on protest sites came after six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the country’s new president. His predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had fled the country after weeks of protests sparked by the country’s economic collapse and growing public anger at the Rajapaksa’s longstanding political influence.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka said it had been informed of the raids and that there had been arrests.

“Authorities must ensure everyone’s safety and their whereabouts must be known,” association president Saliya Peiris said in a statement. “I have tried to contact the IGP (Inspector General of Police) and also sent a message to the army commander. Unnecessary use of brute force will not help this country and its international image .

“Sea of ​​Soldiers”

Protester Anjana Bandarawatta told Al Jazeera of the chaos as the armed forces charged in.

“There was no warning. The military suddenly came and chased us away, assaulting us and shouting with foul language,” he said. “There may be 200 protesters, but the whole area looks like a sea of ​​soldiers.

Shabeer Mohamed, a young protest leader, said he was assaulted by an air force officer while reporting the raid live on social media.

“He came from behind and attacked me in the head and threw my mobile phone while I was broadcasting live. Several other people were also attacked while they were broadcasting live,” Shabeer Mohamed told Al Jazeera .

“They’ve sealed off GotaGoGama and no reporters are allowed in.”

Several people broadcast the attack live on social media, but the streams stopped several times, apparently interrupted by the authorities.

Video footage shared on social media showed how soldiers approached the protest site and turned away from a man when he shouted “media, media, BBC”. They then continued to inspect the tents erected by the protesters.

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Melani Gunathilake, a protest leader, was arrested by troops as she walked to GotaGoGama with a friend. When she took photos of the scene, a soldier grabbed her phone and deleted the footage, she told Al Jazeera.

When his friend interrogated him, the troops also arrested him.

“After the announcement that the protesters planned to hand over the presidential secretariat to the government on July 22 at 2:00 p.m., in the early morning hours of the 22nd just after 1:00 a.m., a large number of armed forces cordoned off GotaGoGama from all sides and began to attack unarmed protesters,” a statement from protest leaders said.

“The computer center, the tent for disabled soldiers, the community kitchen which fed hundreds of people every day for free, the SYU tent, the tent for the hearing impaired, the Gate Zero tent – these, among others, were completely destroyed” , he added. .

Several protest leaders, including lawyer Nuwan Bopage, activist Lahiru Silva, Anuranga and a disabled soldier, are among those confirmed to have been taken away by the military, other leaders say movement.

Wickremesinghe is expected to appoint a new prime minister and cabinet later on Friday.

After being elected by parliament, with the help of Rajapaksa supporters, he declared that he would not allow any illegal activity such as occupying government premises or attempting to overthrow the government.

“We have publicly announced that we will be leaving tomorrow. We decided to give Ranil Wickremesinghe a chance. They had no reason to do it except to show their power. Their intention was to intimidate and oppress the protest movement,” protester Jayasekara told Al Jazeera.

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