Sri Lanka keeps emergency rule as crackdown starts on protesters

COLOMBO (BLOOMBERG) – Sri Lanka is keeping in place emergency rule orders set out by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, while police have arrested at least three organisers of the street protests that forced out his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Parliament on Wednesday (July 27) voted to approve and keep in place for a month the measures that allow the army and police sweeping powers to question, detain and arrest people.

The government is willing to support non-violent public protests, but will not accept “any act of terrorism” that jeopardises democracy, newly-appointed Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told legislators on Wednesday.

Mr Wickremesinghe, who became president after Mr Rajapaksa was forced to flee the country and resign earlier this month, is viewed as an ally of the former head of state and won the election for the top job with the support of lawmakers from Mr Rajapaksa’s political party.

Mr Wickremesinghe has also called on the army to maintain public order.

Security forces, acting on a court’s instruction, cleared a major oceanfront protest site near the presidential secretariat in a pre-dawn operation just a day after Mr Wickremesinghe was sworn in, leading to tense scenes.

The crackdown and emergency laws come amid reports that Mr Rajapaksa is set to return to the island nation shortly.

Mr Rajapaksa fled to Singapore soon after protesters swarmed his official residence and offices in Colombo.

“To my knowledge, he is expected to come back,” Cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he would be given the perks due to an ex-president.

He said he wasn’t aware of when the former president would return, but emphasised Mr Rajapaksa was not in hiding or exile.

Police issued a statement on Wednesday saying they had detained two protest organizers, Mr Kusal Sandaruwan and Mr Weranga Pushpika, according to news reports.

A day earlier, Mr Dhanish Ali, a protester who had been part of a brief takeover of the state-run broadcaster, Rupavahini in early July, was picked up as he boarded a flight to Dubai.