Sri Lanka crisis updates | July 22, 2022

Dinesh Gunawardena sworn in as Sri Lanka Prime Minister; nine persons assaulted in military raid at Colombo’s agitation site

Updated - July 22, 2022 08:52 pm IST

Published - July 22, 2022 09:40 am IST

Sri Lakan President Ranil Wickremesinghe (left) swears in Ali Sabry (right) as new Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Minister, at the Prime Minister office, in Colombo, on July 22, 2022.

Sri Lakan President Ranil Wickremesinghe (left) swears in Ali Sabry (right) as new Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Minister, at the Prime Minister office, in Colombo, on July 22, 2022. | Photo Credit: AFP

Senior politician and staunch Rajapaksa loyalist Dinesh Gunawardena on Friday became the third Prime Minister to lead Sri Lanka in the last three months, amid political turbulence sparked by a worsening economic crisis.

Mr. Gunawardena and an 18-member “continuity Cabinet” was sworn in on Friday morning, in the presence of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was elected to the country’s top office through a parliamentary vote earlier this week. While most Ministers were part of the last Cabinet under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mr. Wickremesinghe will hold the Defence and Finance portfolios. Ali Sabry, who was formerly Justice Minister and later Finance Minister, will now head the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The Prime Minister and the all-male Cabinet were sworn in hours after a pre-dawn military raid at Colombo’s main anti-government agitation site, in which at least nine persons, including activists, journalists and lawyers, were brutally assaulted by soldiers, despite protesters promising to vacate the area by Friday 2 p.m.

Also read | ‘Occupy Galle Face’: A tent city of resistance beside Colombo’s seat of power

Mr. Gunawardena succeeds Mr. Wickremesinghe, who was hand-picked by Mr. Gotabaya for the job in May, after Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned from the post, amid soaring public outrage against the Rajapaksa clan. Citizens held the former first family chiefly responsible for the meltdown that left them scrambling for essentials.

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Here are the latest updates from the ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka:


In cash-strapped Sri Lanka, two more persons die while waiting in queue for fuel

The two deaths were reported on Friday.

The 59-year-old man had left his motorcycle for over two nights near a filling station in Kinniya, a town located in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, collapsed on Friday, according to news portal Lanka First.

The victim’s body was shifted to the Kinniya Base Hospital for post-mortem examination, it said.

A 70-year-old man also died after collapsing while waiting in line for fuel at a filling station in Mathugama, in the country’s Western Province.

Fuel was delivered to the filling station after 10 days, and there was a rush to obtain fuel due to the absence of a proper system of distribution, the report said.

The man collapsed during the rush and was admitted to the Meegahatenna Regional Hospital where he was ruled dead upon admission, it added.

This is not the first time that a person has died while waiting for fuel in Sri Lanka.

Similar incidents have been reported since the beginning of 2022, with some even dying of exhaustion brought about by severe heat. - PTI

U.S - Sri Lanka

U.S. envoy to Sri Lanka expresses ‘grave concern’ over violence against protesters

The United States’ Ambassador to Sri Lanka said she met the new president to express her “grave concern” over violence against protesters in Colombo early on Friday.

“This is not the time to crack down on citizens, but instead to look ahead at the immediate and tangible steps the Government can take to regain the trust of the people, restore stability, and rebuild the economy,” Julie Chung said in a tweet. - Reuters


Sri Lankan troops forcefully clear protesters

Sri Lankan forces violently cleared the main protest camp of demonstrators outraged by the country’s economic meltdown as the newly elected and deeply unpopular president put army troops in the streets of the capital Friday to maintain order.

Security forces were seen beating at least two journalists during the overnight raid, and the bar association said two lawyers were also assaulted — heavy-handed tactics denounced by the opposition, the U.N., and the U.S. The troops moved in even though protesters had announced they would vacate the site on Friday voluntarily. - AP

Beijing - Colombo

China’s Xi Jinping congratulates Sri Lanka’s new President

China’s President Xi Jinping sent a message to Sri Lanka’s new President Ranil Wickremesinghe on July 22 congratulating him on his election victory, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Mr. Wickremesinghe, a lawyer who has served as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister a record six times, secured the Presidency after winning a Parliamentary vote on July 20 in the face of fierce public opposition.

In his message, Xi said he believes Sri Lanka will be able to move towards economic- and social recovery and he is “ready to provide support and assistance to the best of his ability to President Wickremesinghe and the people of Sri Lanka in their efforts”, CCTV reported. - Reuters


18-member Cabinet sworn in

Dinesh Gunawardena, a veteran politician and a close ally of the Rajapaksa family, was appointed as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister. Apart from Mr. Gunawardena, there are 17 other Ministers in the Cabinet. Ali Sabry, who earlier headed the Finance Ministry, was appointed as Foreign Minister.

Prime minister Gunawardena has been given an additional portfolio of Public Administration Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government. The rest of the Ministers were retained with their same portfolios while President Wickremesinghe continues to hold the Ministry of Finance. - PTI


Sri Lankan security forces arrest nine; many injured

Sri Lankan security forces raided the protest site, arrested nine people and injured several others. The police, with the help of three armed forces and the Special Task Force, arrested the suspects aged between 26 and 58 as it evacuated the protesters staying in the Presidential Secretariat office, its main entrance, and around the offices in the Colombo Fort, Sri Lankan media reported.

According to the police, the Crime Scene Investigation Officers (SOCO) and fingerprint analysts will be called to the President’s Secretariat to obtain scientific evidence and the arrested people will be produced in court.

The police said they were investigating under the supervision of the Colombo (Central) Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) as protesters, who blocked entry to the President’s Office since April 9. - PTI

Protesters at Fort Railway Station in Colombo demand President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s resignation; lawyers at Galle Face speak to police and soldiers.

Security personnel surround “Gota Go Gama” protest camp

Protest organisers said hundreds of security personnel surrounded the “Gota Go Gama” protest camp, mockingly named after Rajapaksa, and then took apart a section of it.

At least 50 protesters were injured, the organisers said, including some journalists who were beaten by security forces. Hospital sources said two were hospitalised.

“It was a systematic and premeditated attack,” protest organiser Chameera Dedduwage said. “They actually brutally attacked people. What has happened is a very cheap show of power.” - Reuters


‘Finance’ Portfolio for Ranil Wickemesinghe

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to keep the Finance portfolio and could also appoint a junior Minister to help him out with the department’s work, a source said. - Reuters

Colombo | 11.55 a.m.

‘Heavy handed removal of protesters’ draws criticism

Security forces made several arrests and cleared a protest camp near the Presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators have gathered for the past 104 days. Army and police staff arrived in trucks and buses around midnight, removing tents and blocking roads leading to the site. The overnight raid occurred even though protesters had announced they would vacate the site voluntarily.

Security forces were seen beating up at least two journalists. At least two lawyers also were assaulted when they went to the protest site to offer their counsel, said the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main lawyers’ body in the country. It also said one lawyer and several journalists were arrested.

The lawyers’ association called for a halt to the “unjustified and disproportionate actions” of armed forces targeting civilians. It called on Mr. Wickremesinghe to ensure he and his government respected the rule of law and citizens’ rights.

“The use of the Armed Forces to suppress civilian protests on the very first day in office of the new President is despicable and will have serious consequences on our country’s social, economic and political stability,” the association said in its statement. The heavy handed removal of the protesters drew criticism. - AP

Protester speaks at Fort railway station.
Colombo | 11.50 a.m.

Security forces clear protesters outside Presidential palace in Colombo

Situation is very tense at the capital Colombo where the security forces have started clearing the main anti-government protest site occupied by the demonstrators who are angry at the country’s worst economic crisis. The police started pulling down the tents and hundreds of troops moved on the protesters outside the Presidential palace in Colombo. Dozens of police personnel and soldiers have entered the protest sites and started dismantling them. Media persons were strictly instructed not to take any pictures or videos. The demonstrators are worried about imminent crackdown under the new regime, with Ranil Wickremesinghe as President.

For months, people have taken to streets demanding the government to resign over an acute economic crisis that has left the country short of essentials such as food, medicine and fuel.

Protesters shout slogans during a protest against the raid on an anti-government protest camp early on Friday, near Presidential Secretariat in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 22, 2022.

Protesters shout slogans during a protest against the raid on an anti-government protest camp early on Friday, near Presidential Secretariat in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 22, 2022. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Colombo | 10.20 a.m.

Dinesh Gunawardena takes oath as new Prime Minister

Dinesh Gunawardena on Friday took oath as the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. -Reuters

Colombo | 9.35 a.m.

Sri Lanka’s new President Wickremesinghe to swear in Cabinet on Friday; Dinesh Gunawardena likely to be named new Prime Minister

Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was sworn in as President of Sri Lanka on Thursday, is expected to appoint long-time Rajapaksa loyalist and senior politician Dinesh Gunawardena as Prime Minister, a source close to the President’s office told The Hindu.

Further, Mr. Wickremesinghe will continue with the last-appointed Cabinet until Opposition parties are “ready to cooperate” in an all-party government, the source said, requesting anonymity. Cabinet members will be sworn in on Friday morning, the President’s office said.

Colombo | 9.15 a.m.

Troops raid Sri Lanka’s main protest site, assault protesters and media

A huge military contingent, along with police, raided Galle Face in Colombo early on Friday, where anti-government protesters have peacefully agitated for over three months in the wake of the island nation’s grave economic crisis. Several protesters were assaulted by soldiers, eyewitnesses said. 

United Nations | 9.10 a.m

Top U.N. official in Sri Lanka calls for inclusive consultations to resolve economic crisis

The top U.N. official in Sri Lanka has called on all stakeholders in the country to engage in broad and inclusive consultations to resolve the current economic crisis and the grievances of the people, according to a senior official representing the U.N. chief.

Deputy Spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Farhan Haq, said at the daily news briefing that U.N. Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, “acknowledged the constitutional transfer of power to a new President”. -PTI

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