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

Colombo, Sri Lanka – The army in Sri Lanka has taken control of the president’s secretariat in the capital after “barbaric attacks” on protesters.

Soldiers also destroyed tents at the adjacent GotaGoGama protest site, arresting several protest leaders and besieging the area along with about 100 protesters.

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

“At around midnight, we heard that a huge army was on its way to GotaGoGama and suddenly we saw them running into the presidential secretariat,” said Nipun Charaka Jayasekara, a young protester locked up. in GotaGoGama told Al Jazeera.

“Shortly after, they stretched the ropes from the area and brutally attacked the peaceful protesters as if we were thugs.”

He suffered minor injuries, he said, while trying to flee from military crackdown.

When the military offensive began, Jayasekara streamed it but then lost his smartphone in the chaos.

“Some were severely assaulted; were inhumanely 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. Now I am using an old phone. I only have my clothes left,” he said.

An estimated 10 protesters were seriously injured after being attacked.

The attack on the protest sites came after Ranil Wickremesinghe, a six-time prime minister, was sworn in as the country’s new president. His predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksafled the country after weeks of protests caused by the country’s economic collapse and growing public anger over the longtime political influence of Rajapaksas.

The Sri Lanka Bar Association said it was aware of the raids and had made arrests.

“Authorities must ensure the safety of people and their whereabouts must be made public,” association president Saliya Peiris said in a statement. “I tried to contact the IGP (Inspector General of Police) and also texted the Army Commander. The needless use of force will not help this country and its international image.”

‘Sea of ​​soldiers’

Protester Anjana Bandarawatta told Al Jazeera about the chaos when the armed forces arrived.

“There is no warning at all. The army suddenly came in and sent us off to attack us and shout with dirty 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 assaulted me in the head and threw my cell phone while I was live streaming. Several others were also assaulted while they were on the live broadcast,” Shabeer Mohamed told Al Jazeera.

“They have sealed off GotaGoGama and no journalists are allowed in.”

Some people broadcast the assault live on social media, but the streams were stopped several times, allegedly due to interruptions by the authorities.

Video shared on social media showed how soldiers approached the protest site and turned their backs on a man as he shouted “media, media, BBC”. They then continued to inspect the tents set up by the protesters.

Melani Gunathilake, a leader of the protest movement, was stopped by the army as she was walking towards GotaGoGama with a friend. When she took some photos of the scene, a soldier snatched her phone and deleted the images, she told Al Jazeera.

When her friend asked that, the army also arrested him.

“Following the announcement that the protesters were planning to hand over the Presidential Office to the government at 2 p.m. on July 22, in the early hours of the morning of the 22nd shortly after 1 a.m., a large number of forces The armed forces surrounded GotaGoGama from all sides and began to attack. unarmed protesters,” a statement by protest leaders said.

“IT Center, Disabled Soldiers Tent, Community Kitchen that fed hundreds of people for free every day, SYU Tent, Deaf Tent, Gate Zero Tent – these among others were completely destroyed ,’ it added.

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

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

After being elected by parliament, with the help of Rajapaksa’s supporters, he said that he would not allow any illegal activities such as occupying government premises or plotting to overthrow the government.

“We have publicly announced that we will be leaving tomorrow. We decided to give Ranil Wickremesinghe a chance. They have no reason to do this other than to show their strength. Their intention is to threaten and suppress the protest movement,” protester Jayasekara told Al Jazeera.

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