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Thugs attacked peaceful protesters, Sri Lanka in turmoil

Anti-government protesters beaten by pro-government activists in Colombo on Monday, May 9, 2022. Image via Groundviews. Used with permission.

Anti-government protesters beaten by pro-government activists in Colombo on Monday, May 9, 2022. Image via Groundviews. Used with permission.

This post was first published in Groundviews, an award-winning citizen media website in Sri Lanka. An edited version is published here as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.

After 30 days of peaceful protests, the Rajapaksa regime unleashed its thugs on the protesters outside the residence of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees in Colombo on Monday, May 9, 2022. After demolishing the tents and assaulting the people gathered there, the thugs proceeded to Galle Face where they destroyed the tents at GotaGoGama including the medical tent and the library, as police watched. “Gota Go Gama” means “Gota Go Village” in Sinhala, and it has been set up (similar to other occupy movements) like a small village providing food, toilets and free emergency medical services for the protesters occupying the space demanding president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family members resign from key government positions.

Finally, the police began to disperse the attackers with water cannons and tear gas. Riot police were called in to control the situation as lawyers and office workers came out to protect the protesters. A countrywide curfew has been imposed.

People were already getting together to rebuild GotaGoGama from the ruins.

Condemnation of the attacks on the peaceful protesters came in immediately. Amnesty International said:

Sri Lanka: The state has a duty to create an enabling environment for peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. As such, it must take necessary, reasonable and proportionate measures to de-escalate the violence at peaceful protest sites, to protect the right to protest of those who have been peacefully agitating for one month. Amidst reports of injuries sustained by peaceful protestors and of inadequate protection provided by police to guarantee the right to protest, the State must ensure prompt, fair investigations and bring those responsible for such violence to justice.

Television channels live-streamed graphic footage of the destruction and the brutal attacks on unarmed people by thugs carrying metal poles. Several people have been hospitalised.

“The use of pro-govt thugs to attack peaceful protestors was always one of the more likely ways the Rajapaksa government would try to cling to power – despite virtually the whole country wants them gone. This changes the political dynamic in major and dangerous ways,” warned Alan Keenan from the International Crisis Group.

Dr Asanga Welikala, Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Edinburgh, tweeted:

Former cricketing star Mahela Jayawardene condemned the attacks on the peaceful protesters:

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tweeted:

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was expected to resign on May 9, 2022, but instead brought busloads of his supporters to plead with him to stay on, tweeted:

To which cricket celebrity Kumar Sangakkara replied:

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa warned:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka called on the IGP and the police to take immediate action to prevent the protesters from being attacked. “There will be grave repercussions to the Government, the IGP and the police if they fail to take action to deal with this situation,” the Bar Association said.

Former speaker Karu Jayasuriya asked:

US Ambassador Julie Chung said:

British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton said:

Dr. Sanjana Hattotuwa, founding editor of Groundviews tweeted:

After being hit, enraged anti-government protesters chased down dozens of people who attacked them and pushed them into the Beira Lake near the prime minister’s official residence. A former minister's car was also toppled into the lake.

All government and private sector trade unions, including port, railway and postal workers jointly decided to call a general strike immediately to protest the brutal attack on peaceful protesters carried out by the supporters of the Rajapaksa regime.

Here is a reaction of human rights lawyer and researcher Bhavani Fonseka:

This interview shows the reaction of Ambika Satkunanathan, former commissioner of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission:

As per the latest news reports, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on May 9, 2022.

Update:

On the night of Monday May 9, 2020, mobs burnt down over 38 houses and damaged 65 houses belonging to the ruling Rajapaksa family and its ministers and members of parliament. Since Monday, at least 8 people died and over 232 were injured in sporadic clashes.

On May 10 morning, the Sri Lankan army evacuated former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family to a safe location. Meanwhile, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, the speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament, asked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to summon parliament immediately.

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