Sri Lanka arrests protest leader, extends state of emergency

Sri Lankan police arrested two people who led large protests, while parliament approved an extension of the state of emergency until mid-August.

Sri Lankan police announced on July 27 that they had arrested Kusal Sandaruwan and Weranga Pushpika, two activists who led the massive protests that led to the overthrow of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on charges of unlawful assembly.

Student leader Dhaniz Ali was also arrested while boarding a flight to Dubai a day earlier. Police announced a court-appointed arrest warrant in connection with a case but did not elaborate.

A protester participating in a march against Sri Lanka's President Ranil Wickremesinghe confronts special police forces blocking the road leading to the presidential palace in Colombo on July 22.  Photo: AFP

Sri Lankan protesters confront police on the road leading to the presidential palace in the capital Colombo on July 22. Image: AFP

Rajapaksa had to flee when tens of thousands of protesters stormed the presidential palace in Colombo on July 9. Rajapaksa flew to Singapore and submitted his resignation, while his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe declared a national emergency and pledged to take tough action against “troublemakers”.

Multiple videos showing stacks of banknotes left behind in the presidential palace were shared on social media after Rajapaksa fled, including Sandaruwan. Police also released photos of 14 suspects wanted in connection with the burning of Mr Wickremesinghe’s mansion.

Sri Lankan lawmakers on July 27 voted to extend the state of emergency until mid-August, allowing the military to continue arresting and detaining suspects for long periods of time.

The anger of the people lasted for many months before breaking out into a large protest on July 9. Mr. Rajapaksa was criticized for poor management, pushing the country’s economy into a difficult situation after running out of foreign currency to import essential items.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have experienced months of power outages, record inflation, and shortages of food, fuel and petrol. The protesters also demanded the resignation of President Wickremesinghe, accusing him of protecting the Rajapaksa clan, who have controlled Sri Lankan politics for the past two decades.

Hong Hanh (Theo AFP)

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