COLOMBO – A longtime ally of the Rajapaksa political family was appointed Friday as Sri Lanka’s new prime minister, hours after security forces cleared the main protest site occupied for months by demonstrators angry at the Rajapaksas over the country’s economic collapse.
New President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was elected by lawmakers and sworn into office earlier this week, appointed his school classmate Dinesh Gunawardena to succeed himself. Gunawardena is 73 and belongs to a prominent political family.
Sri Lankans have taken to the streets for months demanding their leaders resign over an economic crisis that has left the island nations’ 22 million people short of essentials like medicine, food and fuel.
The protests forced out former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week. Several Rajapaksa siblings resigned from ministry posts earlier in the crisis.
The ceremony came several hours after security forces cleared a protest camp near the presidential palace and made several arrests. At least two journalists and two lawyers were beaten by security forces.
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main lawyers’ body in the country, called for a halt to the “unjustified and disproportionate actions” of armed forces against civilians.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan security forces arrested several people by early Friday and cleared the main camp protesters have occupied for more than three months while demanding the nation’s leaders resign over an unprecedented economic collapse.
Army and police personnel arrived in trucks and buses around midnight, removing tents and protest banners at the site near the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days. They blocked off roads leading to the site and carried long poles.
The security forces were witnessed beating up at least two journalists. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main lawyers’ body in the country, also said at least two lawyers were assaulted when they went to the protest site to offer their counsel. Its statement Friday called for a halt to the “unjustified and disproportionate actions” of armed forces against civilians.
The move against the protesters followed the swearing-in Thursday of new President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was chosen by lawmakers earlier this week to finish the term of the leader who fled the country after protesters stormed his residence.
He now has the power to chose a prime minister to succeed himself.
The months of protests concentrated on the ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family’s political dynasty, but Wickremesinghe has also drawn their ire as a perceived Rajapaksa surrogate and an example of the country’s problematic political establishment.
Sri Lanka’s economic chaos has left the nation’s 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials, including medicine, fuel and food.
On Monday, in his role as acting president, Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency that gave him broad authority to act in the interest of public security and order. Authorities have broad power to search premises and detain people, and Wickremesinghe can change or suspend any law.
On Friday, he issued a notice under the state of emergency calling out the armed forces to maintain law and order. The emergency must be reviewed by Parliament regularly to decide whether to extend it or let it expire.
Wickremesinghe, 73, has wide experience in diplomatic and international affairs and has been overseeing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund. He said Monday those discussions were near a conclusion and talks on help from other countries had also progressed. He also said the government has taken steps to resolve shortages of fuel and cooking gas.