Army personnel gather near the Presidential Secretariat building in Colombo on July 22, 2022. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP)

In the crisis-ridden country of Sri Lanka, a massive contingent of security forces stormed and broke up the main anti-government protest camp in the capital, Colombo. The police said nine people were arrested during the deployment of around 1,000 police officers and soldiers on Friday night. A spokesman said 14 injured protesters were taken to the National Hospital.

The people’s protest is directed, among other things, against the new President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in a few hours earlier. They see him as a representative of the power elite around ex-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled abroad after unprecedented mass protests. Sri Lanka is mired in a severe economic and financial crisis, which people blame on mismanagement by the political leadership.

The member of the governing party, Dinesh Gunawardena, was sworn in as the new head of government on Friday. The 73-year-old had previously been appointed by the new president. The new prime minister is also considered a long-time loyal supporter of the ex-president who fled.

Widely unpopular new President Ranil Wickremesinghe said at his inauguration that any attempt to overthrow the government or occupy government buildings is not democracy but against the law. A few hours later, the storming of the main protest camp began.

According to the police, around 200 protesters were present at the time of the raid. Forces tore down tents and erected barricades around the protest camp to prevent anyone from returning. According to the police, around 300 people demonstrated in the capital on Friday morning (local time).

Lawyers who wanted to go to the former main protest camp on Friday were attacked by emergency services, the bar association said. At least one lawyer and several journalists were also arrested.

The chamber called on President Ranil Wickremesinghe to ensure that he and his government respect the rule of law and people’s fundamental rights. They condemned the attack on the protesters. The country’s Human Rights Commission also called the attack a complete violation of basic human rights.

The violent crackdown on the protesters could disrupt negotiations between the heavily indebted country and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sri Lanka has also asked the IMF for help in the face of its worst economic crisis in decades. Saliya Pieries, of the country’s Bar Association, said on Friday that the unnecessary use of brute force was not good for Sri Lanka’s international reputation.

The island state south of India with its approximately 22 million inhabitants was once considered the new Singapore, an up-and-coming country with a growing middle class. People now have to queue at gas stations for days to get petrol or diesel. The power goes out regularly. There is no gas for cooking or medicine, and food prices have risen sharply. The heavily indebted country lacks the money to import important goods.