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UN experts sound alarm over economic crisis – The Island

by Sean GLEESON and Amal JAYASINGHE

(AFP) Lankan security forces demolished the main anti-government protest camp in the capital on Friday, evicting activists in a pre-dawn assault that sparked international concern over dissent under the country’s new pro-Western president. countries in crisis.

Police Special Task Force troops and commandos wielding batons and armed with automatic assault rifles charged at people blockading the waterfront presidential secretariat in Colombo. Hundreds of soldiers cleared the barricades and protesters’ tents outside the colonial-era building, while the last remaining protesters at the scene – some still on the steps – were charged with batons.

The operation took place hours before new President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed an old friend as prime minister and the ousted head of state’s personal lawyer as foreign minister. him from his palace.

The remaining protesters – far fewer than the thousands who stormed several government buildings earlier this month – also demanded that Wickremesinghe resign. They accuse him of protecting the Rajapaksa clan which has dominated politics for much of the past two decades. and the soldiers barricaded the compound and the main roads leading to the area were cordoned off.

Hundreds of activists demonstrated at a nearby designated protest site against the military action, demanding Wickremesinghe’s resignation, the dissolution of parliament and the authorization of new elections.

“Don’t attack peaceful protesters, listen to us instead,” said student Dimmithu, 26.

Activists insisted they would continue their struggle and Basantha Samarasinghe, 45, businessman and labor leader, said: “People’s wish is for system change and parliament should be dissolved. He has no public office.

Police said in a statement that security forces acted to clear protesters who were “illegally occupying” the presidential compound, with nine people arrested, two of whom were injured.

US Ambassador to Colombo Julie Chung said she was “deeply concerned” about the military action.

“We call on the authorities for restraint and immediate access to medical care for the injured,” she said on Twitter. The European Union has said freedom of expression is essential for Sri Lanka to emerge from its chaos.

“It’s hard to see how severely restricting it can help find solutions to the current political and economic crises,” the EU delegation in Colombo said.

A currency crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and exacerbated by mismanagement has left Sri Lanka suffering from long blackouts and record inflation. The country’s 22 million people have also endured months of shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

Wickremesinghe was sworn in to his political rival Dinesh Gunawardena as the country’s new prime minister on Friday. The pair have been classmates and friends since they were three years old, but lead ideologically opposed political parties. Wickremesinghe is a champion free market and a pro-Western politician while Gunawardena is a staunch Sinhalese nationalist who believes in socialism and wants greater state control over the economy.

“We have differences, but we have enough friendship to unite to face the main problem of the country, which is the economy,” Gunawardena told reporters.

Wickremesinghe was also sworn into a new cabinet, largely reinstating ministers from his predecessor but keeping the finance portfolio for himself to continue bailout talks with the IMF. He also replaced the foreign minister with Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s personal lawyer, Ali Sabry. interim cabinet” which could be replaced “within a few weeks”.

Hours after the election of Wickremesinghe – a six-time prime minister who previously extended a state of emergency – he warned protesters that occupying state buildings was illegal and that they would be expelled unless they don’t go alone. On the day his predecessor was forced to flee, protesters also set fire to Wickremesinghe’s private home in the capital.

Amnesty International has urged Sri Lankan authorities to respect dissent and condemned the use of force against journalists, including a BBC photographer who was kicked in the stomach by soldiers who confiscated his videos. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa accused the government of using excessive force. “Nothing can justify this inhuman act,” he said. “Is attacking foreign journalists the new government’s most innovative policy to promote tourism?