ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is facing a “fascist threat” that needs to be contained, newly appointed Acting President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, announcing a curfew and state of emergency after hundreds of protestors took control of the Prime Minister’s office.
In a video statement released Wednesday July 13 afternoon, Wickremesinghe said he has appointed a committee comprising military commanders and the police chief to enforce the curfew and state of emergency.
Citing intelligence reports, Wickremesinghe claimed that factions of Sri Lanka’s newly emergent anti-government protest movement – known as the aragalaya (or struggle) – had plotted to seize and occupy the president’s and prime minister’s official residences and offices as well as the parliament complex.
Last Saturday, July 09, tens of thousands of protestors congregated in Colombo Fort in an attempt to force the ouster of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who has now fled to the Maldives. At the time of writing, protestors are occupying the PM’s office in addition to the President’s House, the PM’s official residence Temple Trees, and the Presidential Secretariat.
“We had received intelligence that even if the president left, sections of the aragalaya had planned to seize the PM’s office, to surround the air force commander’s house for providing the president an aircraft to fly to the Maldives, and to surround the houses of the army and navy commanders as well.
“The plan was to seize power. There was also a plan to surround parliament. The speaker had met with the chief of defence staff who had agreed to protect the parliament complex, so they didn’t get a chance to go there today,” said Wickremesinghe.
Wednesday’s group of protestors, numbering thousands, were met with stiff resistance by police but managed to break through barricades and storm the building.
“They have no reason at all to enter the prime minister’s office,” said Wickremesinghe.
“What they want is to prevent me as acting president together with the speaker from electing a new president. They want to elect their candidate,” he said.
Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said earlier on Wednesday that the president will be sending his resignation letter within the day and that the election of a new president from the current parliament will go ahead as planned on July 20.
Wickremesinghe complained of the extraconstitutional methods that he said some protestors are resorting to.
“Some have said there is no point in consulting parliament or the country’s constitution but to do what they say instead. Parliament is what gives expression to people’s sovereignty and franchise. The country’s constitution cannot be torn up. Some even said we don’t need a constitution. That’s anti-constitutional,” he said.
“They’re attempting to spread fascism in this country. Some of our mainstream parties have joined this today,” he added.
Wickremesinghe said party leaders had already met by Wednesday afternoon to discuss the situation that would emerge upon the president’s resignation. He had already pledged to resign as PM when an all-party government is formed, he said, and it was agreed to reconvene on Friday July 15.
“Those who wished to be nominated agreed to speak to other MPs for their support. There was a democratic environment in the country,” he said.
The prime minister said he was advised by the security establishment to declare curfew and a state of emergency, which are now both under way, to contain the protests that sprang up earlier in the day and are still ongoing.
“We must eliminate this fascist threat. Ordinary citizens’ houses must be protected,” he said.
“They cannot be allowed to occupy the president’s house, Temple Trees, presidential secretariat and misplace the documents contained within them. So I have advised the defence establishment to enforce curfew and emergency and bring the situation back to normal.”
The committee has been given all the powers needed to carry out its mandate with no political interefence, said Wickremesinghe.
“I ask all of you, this is your future. It’s a time to protect the law and the peace, for you and for your children. I ask you to therefore fully cooperate with the forces and the police,” he said.
opposition leader Sajith Premadasa claimed authorities have launched a campaign of suppression on the people.
He asked whether President Rajapska had actually resigned or whether prime minister Wickremesinghe did not hear the call of the people.
“I am asking the young people to protest without causing harm,” he said. “Do not lay a hand on public or private property. I am asking dear security forces not to be pawns of an oppressive regime,” he said.
Ex-President Maithripala Sirisena said an unstable situation had emerged and the quickest way to solve it was for Wickremesinghe to resign without creating conflicts between the people and security forces.
“I am pleading in the name of God for Ranil Wickremesinghe to resign fast,” he said. (Colombo/Jul13/2022)