Sri Lanka president’s office to reopen after crackdown

Published July 24, 2022
<p>Demonstrators protest inside the President’s House, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on July 9. — Reuters</p>

Demonstrators protest inside the President’s House, after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled, amid the country’s economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on July 9. — Reuters

Sri Lanka’s besieged presidential office will reopen on Monday (Jul 25), police said, days after anti-government demonstrators were flushed out in a military crackdown that triggered international condemnation.

Widespread public anger over the island’s unprecedented economic crisis saw protesters storm and occupy the colonial-era building earlier this month.

Soldiers were forced to rescue then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa from his nearby residence on the same day, with the leader fleeing to Singapore and resigning days later.

Troops armed with batons and automatic weapons cleared the 92-year-old presidential secretariat in a pre-dawn raid on Friday on the orders of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

At least 48 people were wounded and nine arrested in the operation, during which security forces tore down tents set up by protesters outside the complex since April.

“The office is ready for reopening from Monday,” said a police official on Sunday, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“The siege of the secretariat, which lasted since May 9, has now been lifted.”

Police said forensic experts had been called in to check damage to the presidential secretariat and gather evidence.

Explainer: How Sri Lanka spiralled into crisis

Western governments, the United Nations and human rights groups have condemned Wickremesinghe for using violence against unarmed protesters who had announced their intention to vacate the site later on Friday.

Wickremesinghe defended the crackdown and said he had told Colombo-based diplomats on Friday that blocking government buildings was unacceptable.

Police spokesman Nihal Talduwa said protesters were free to continue their demonstrations at a designated site near the presidential office.

“They can remain at the official protest site. The government may even open a few more places for demonstrators in the city,” Talduwa said on Sunday.

The military operation to clear the secretariat building and its immediate surroundings came less than 24 hours after Wickremesinghe was sworn in and just before a new Cabinet was appointed.

Burning fuel crisis

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have also endured months of lengthy blackouts, record inflation and shortages of food, fuel and petrol.

Its government is officially bankrupt, having defaulted on its US$51 billion foreign debt, and is currently in bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

The economic crisis which fuelled the protest campaign shows no sign of easing, but the government announced on Sunday it would reopen schools which had remained shut for the better part of a month.

The education ministry said students and teachers will be asked to return to school only for three days each week as transport is still hampered by a national fuel shortage.

Miles-long queues of motorists waiting to fill up were seen across the country Sunday despite the government introducing a rationing system.

New president Wickremesinghe has said he will unveil a fresh budget for the rest of the year in August as previous revenue and expenditure estimates were unrealistic.

Opinion

Editorial

Crisis conference
Updated 04 Feb, 2023

Crisis conference

PTI's refusal to engage with the govt in such testing times will only be seen as sign of ideological bankruptcy.
Revenge politics
04 Feb, 2023

Revenge politics

A SENSE of déjà-vu prevails as cases pile up against PTI politicians, many of whom, along with their allies and...
Inappropriate remarks
04 Feb, 2023

Inappropriate remarks

OFFICIALS of the state, especially when representing the country at international forums, need to choose their words...
Delay in the offing?
Updated 03 Feb, 2023

Delay in the offing?

Govt must realise that political stability in the country cannot be achieved by extra-constitutional actions.
Divisions in PML-N
03 Feb, 2023

Divisions in PML-N

DISCORD and drama in PML-N ranks escalated this week when Shahid Khaqan Abbasi revealed he no longer holds a party...
Wikipedia ‘downgrade’
03 Feb, 2023

Wikipedia ‘downgrade’

ATTEMPTS to police the internet by states, often by giving opaque justifications for the action, are never a good...