COLOMBO — Sri Lankan security forces raided an anti-government protest camp in the commercial capital Colombo early on Friday, two protest organizers said, a sign that the country’s new president was cracking down a day after his swearing in.
Hundreds of security personnel surrounded the “Gota Go Gama” protest camp, mockingly named after the former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, past midnight and then took apart a section of it, the two organizers said.
At least 50 protesters were injured, the organizers said, including some journalists who were beaten by security forces.
“It was a systematic and premeditated attack,” protest organizer Chameera Dedduwage told Reuters. “They actually brutally attacked people.”
Police and army spokespeople did not immediately respond to calls from Reuters.
Sri Lanka is under a state of emergency imposed by new President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday. Previous emergency regulations have been used to give powers to the military to detain and arrest protesters, and curtail the right to protest.
Wickremesinghe, the former prime minister, was sworn into office on Thursday after winning a parliamentary vote this week, following the resignation of Rajapaksa who fled to Sri Lanka in the wake of massive public protests triggered by the country’s worst economic crisis in seven decades.
After surrounding the protest camp, security personnel moved in front of the presidential secretariat, started dismantling some tents and assaulted protesters in the area, protest organizer Manjula Samarasekara said.
A part of the colonial-era secretariat was occupied by protesters, along with the president and prime minister’s official residences earlier this month. The residences were later handed back to government authorities.
“Very concerned about reports from the Galle Face protest site,” Sarah Hulton, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, said in a tweet.
“We have made clear the importance of the right to peaceful protest.” (Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)