Within hours of being appointed Sri Lanka’s new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a stark warning to the island’s protestors, as government supporters reportedly attacked a demonstration site and a court blocked protests at another major site in the Southern capital.
“If you try to topple the government, occupy the president’s office and the prime minister’s office, that is not democracy; it is against the law,” said Wickremesinghe, as protestors feared a crackdown by the Sri Lankan security forces.
“We will deal with them firmly according to the law,” he warned. “We will not allow a minority of protesters to suppress the aspirations of the silent majority clamouring for a change in the political system.”
Photographs: JDS Lanka
Wickremesinghe’s stark message comes after protestors occupied both president and prime minister’s office last week, in a tumultuous wave of protests that saw his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa flee the country and resign.
Lawmakers elected Wickremesinghe to replace him as president on Wednesday following days of political manoeuvring by Sinhala politicians. Sri Lanka’s protestors denounced Wickremesinghe as a Rajapaksa ally, having been appointed by his predecessor as prime minister just months ago as protests erupted.
Wickremesinghe shot back at those claims, even mocking a question from a British Sky News journalist on whether he was a friend of the Rajapaksas.
Meanwhile, the new president got straight to firm military business, making it one of his first acts to visit the Sri Lankan armed forces. The security forces, which stand accused of committing numerous rights abuses and the genocide of Tamils, were thanked for their role in policing the protests, which have seen several deaths and even more injuries.
Just hours before he took oaths this morning, a protest site in Embilipitiya reportedly came under attack from pro-government supporters.
Earlier in the day, a court in Colombo issued an order barring anyone from gathering around the controversial Bandaranaike statue in the southern capital – the main site of protests since April of this month.
“The Parliament today has taken a decision against the wishes of the people,” said some protesters at a press conference after Wickremesinghe was voted into office by lawmakers. “Ranil Wickremesinghe has been brought in by the Rajapaksa regime. Therefore, our peaceful protests will go on against Ranil Wickremesinghe and the corrupt system.”
Even as protestors feared a new crackdown however, Wickremesinghe continued to attempt to paint a liberal image. Protests “should continue” he told reporters.