New Sri Lankan President Criticized for Crackdown

Army soldiers stand guard as people shout slogans at a protest camp outside the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo [Rafiq Maqbool/AP]

Human rights groups have called on Sri Lanka’s new president to immediately order security forces to stop use of force against the protesters, who have been revolting against their government.

Armed forces move in to clear the protest camp near the president’s palace in the capital, Colombo, even after protesters had promised to vacate the site voluntarily after staging a sit-in for more than 100 days, the troops moved in and started attacking demonstrators with batons, a day after the new President  Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in.

Wickremesinghe, who previously served as prime minister six times, was sworn in as president a week after his predecessor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fled the country as protesters stormed his residence. Rajapaksa later resigned while in self- exile in Singapore.

Human Rights Watch said the incident “sends a dangerous message to the Sri Lankan people that the new government intends to act through brute force rather than the rule of law”.

“Urgently needed measures to address the economic needs of Sri Lankans demand a government that respects fundamental rights,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said. “Sri Lanka’s international partners should send the message loud and clear that they can’t support an administration that tramples on the rights of its people,” she added.

Amnesty International also condemned the use of force, saying “it is shameful that the new government resorted to such violent tactics within hours of coming to power”. “The protesters have a right to demonstrate peacefully. Excessive use of force, intimidation and unlawful arrests seem to be an endlessly repetitive pattern in which the Sri Lankan authorities respond to dissent and peaceful assembly,” said Kyle Ward, the group’s deputy secretary general.

Al Jazeera reporter Minelle Fernandez said protesters have promised to continue demonstrating until Wickremesinghe resigns. “Their issue with the new leader is that he has no legitimacy, he has no credibility, given that when the people spoke in the last general elections they voted him out of parliament,” she said.

Dinesh Gunawardena, a veteran member of the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Front and an ally of the Rajapaksa political family has been sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new prime minister, just hours after soldiers attack on protesters.

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