Local Sri Lankans were not allowed to watch the second test from the ramparts of Galle Fort, but that didn’t stop the peaceful demonstrators.
Local Sri Lankans have been banned from watching the second test against Australia from the ramparts of Galle Fort, but that hasn’t stopped peaceful protesters from gathering outside the walls of the iconic landmark on Saturday.
The 16th-century fort, overlooking the Galle International Stadium, is one of the hallmarks of the picturesque cricket ground, where large crowds usually watch the game from the south.
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During the opening of the series last week, in which Australia won by 10 wickets, protesters with anti-government placards were forcibly removed from public spaces.
One of the posters called for President Gotabhai Rajapaksa to step down: “Go home Gotha.”
An army spokesman explained that the protesters had been removed so as not to distract the Australian cricketers, but the Australian cricketers later denied that they had any visibility problems.
Despite this, no spectators were seen on the walls of the fort on the first day of the second test match, and the police and army patrolled the area.
Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed after years of macroeconomic mismanagement by the ruling Rajapaksa family, resulting in severe food, fuel and electricity shortages.
Protests have been raging since Aprilwith demonstrators accusing President Rajapaksa and his government of political mismanagement and financial mismanagement that hastened the country’s economic decline.
Sri Lanka Cricket has banned spectators from bringing posters and banners to international matches this season. but posters thanking Australia for the tour were allowed.
Ahead of the long-awaited first test at the International Stadium in Halle, residents deliberately lined up empty blue and yellow gas canisters halfway along the perimeter of the scenic spot.
It was a grim and bitter reminder that the needs of foreign athletes were more important than the needs of the local population, which is on the brink of a humanitarian emergency.
There was a major protest in Colombo on Saturday, but the government has canceled buses and blocked the sale of petrol to keep Galle citizens from reaching Sri Lanka’s capital.
Instead, citizens gathered outside the cricket ground for an impromptu protest that eventually made its way to the top of Galle Fort.
As Australian vice-captain Steve Smith crawled to undefeated 145 in the morning session, hundreds of protesters from Sri Lanka migrated to the walls of the fort – the police were powerless to stop them.
Meanwhile, police imposed a curfew in Colombo and surrounding areas after using tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators.
The Sri Lanka Bar Association called the curfew “clearly illegal and a violation of fundamental rights”.
“Take to the streets tomorrow,” opposition leader Sajit Premadasa tweeted.
Challenge the dictate
Locals are furious, and understandably, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves fell from $7.6 billion in 2019 to $1.6 billion in April, now they are less than $1 billion.
Colombo has been plagued by 10-hour power outages since March, with car and tuk-tuk drivers lining up for kilometer-long fuel lines.
Schools are temporarily closed and countless local businesses that can no longer afford imported goods are closing.
In May, a two-day-old baby died in the highland town of Haldummulla after falling ill and her parents were unable to get gasoline to take her to the nearest hospital.
But as the citizens of Colombo suffer daily power outages, the Australian team’s bus and accompanying security convoy travel to and from the venue every day, passing long lines of desperate locals sleeping in their cars waiting for fuel.
The floodlights at R Premadasa Stadium were unaffected during last month’s ODI matches between Australia and Sri Lanka, and the stadium’s lighting was powered by generators from the state-owned Ceylon Electricity Board.
Originally published as ‘Extraordinary scenes’: Sri Lankan locals defy ban and peacefully protest Galle Fort