COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP)– Hundreds of Sri Lankans on Tuesday rallied against a government crackdown and the use of emergency laws against peaceful protesters demanding answers to the country’s worst economic crisis.
Protesters led by religious and trade union leaders marched to the Independence Square in Colombo and made several demands to the government including the withdrawal of emergency laws, an end to the arrests of peaceful protesters, the immediate dissolution of Parliament and relief for those burdened by the hardship and shortages of basic supplies.
Four months of street protests culminated last month when former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled to Singapore and resigned after demonstrators stormed his official home and occupied several key government buildings. His brother Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister in May and four other family members had quit as ministers before him.
Protesters accuse the Rajapaksa family of plunging the country into the crisis through mismanagement and corruption.
The former prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was elected by Parliament to complete Rajapaksa’s five-year term until 2024, but many of the protesters are unhappy with him and say he was backed by lawmakers who are still loyal to the Rajapaksas to protect the former ruling family from being held accountable.
Several groups had initially called a major rally to force Wickremesinghe out of office but a lack of support forced them to hold smaller protests. They called for a temporary government, the dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections.
Since his election, Wickremesinghe has authorized the military and police to violently dismantle protest camps and arrest those they identified to have trespassed the presidential palace and other state buildings.
Wickremesinghe on Tuesday visited the army headquarters and thanked soldiers who protected Parliament when protesters tried to enter last month.
“If we had lost Parliament, it would have created a big problem … we would have lost the governance system that we know,” Wickremesinghe said, adding that now it was up to lawmakers to win over the confidence of the people.