Inside a Sri Lankan protest camp, the government tries to quell

Shocked and unable to walk on his own, 24-year-old Shasika Madushan says he was attacked by the Sri Lankan military when the protesters’ main camp in Colombo was raided early Friday morning.
He was in the presidential secretariat building, the last building the protest movement still occupied after the July 9 protests swept Colombo.

The building was converted by protesters into a public library.

“I was at the presidential secretariat, we were packing things up, getting ready to leave. The army then surrounded the area and set up barriers,” he tells SBS News.

The protesters promised to leave the building peacefully on Saturday. But early on Friday morning, hundreds of military and police officers arrived at this place and took it by force.

Police clash with protesters in Sri Lanka.

At least 50 protesters have been injured in the latest crackdown in Sri Lanka. Source: SBS news / Aaron Fernandez

The raid came just hours after six-time prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president.

In one of his first acts in this role, Mr Wickremesingh issued an order calling on “all members” of the army, navy and air force to mobilize “to maintain public order” throughout the country.

Shasika says he was chased by more than a dozen soldiers who knocked him to the ground.

“I fell and they hit me with an iron bar and it broke my back. It damaged two tissues inside my spine,” he told SBS News.
Shasika says protesters were not allowed to go out for medical attention for five hours.
When SBS News met him, he had just returned from the hospital but was still in pain as St. John’s ER paramedics examined him.

“Five hours later they opened the gate to let people into the hospital. Even if we died here, they wouldn’t care. They tried to establish total military control here.”

Shasika Madushan.

Shasika Madushan (center) says he was chased by more than a dozen soldiers who knocked him to the ground. Source: SBS news / Aaron Fernandez

He was among at least 50 injured during a crackdown that wiped out half of the protest site known as Gota Go village.

Those who remain in the rest of the camp say they were ambushed by the police and military.
“We suspect this is more of an organized attack because they were targeting people and I saw one (a soldier) looking through binoculars,” protester Metsara Benaragama said.
Nine people arrested during the raid were released on bail.

A tense atmosphere hung over the area Friday afternoon as police and military outnumbered the remaining protesters, but the mood calmed as protesters turned the screams into a silent protest.

Protesters in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s united opposition parties condemned the use of force against the protesters. Source: SBS news / Aaron Fernandez

Sri Lanka’s United Opposition Parties condemned the use of force against protesters, criticizing the use of state emergency powers to arrest demonstrators.

“A cowardly attack on peaceful demonstrators who agreed to leave the polls today. A useless display of selfishness and brute force endangering the lives of innocent people and (jeopardizing) the international image of Sri Lanka,” opposition leader Sajit Premadasa tweeted.

The United Nations also condemned the violence.

“The use of force against peaceful demonstrators is contrary to international law, and we call on the authorities to immediately stop the use of such force,” UNHCR spokesman Jeremy Lawrence said.
Reproaches also come from the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, who tweeted that she met with President Wickremesinghe to express “grave concern about the unnecessary and deeply disturbing escalation of violence against protesters.”
The Sri Lankan police have faced mounting criticism since Friday’s riots and they have released a clip they say shows protesters chasing cops away, as well as a statement saying “this group of protesters have been staying at the President’s building since July 9th.” pointing out that this was their premises, obstructing and insulting the security personnel”.

The Australian government has yet to make any public comment about the crackdown on protesters.