Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church leaders condemn ‘high-handed action’ of new president

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo hit President Ranil Wickremesinghe for acting "against the basic right of the people to protest, which is a democratic right"

Catholic Church leaders in Sri Lanka, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, condemned what they described as the “high-handed action” of the country’s new president.

Security forces demolished the camp, evicting activists in a pre-dawn assault that raised international concern for dissent under the crisis-wracked country’s new pro-Western president.

“This is very sad because the president became president only on the vote of the parliamentarians, and because he came saying that he would protect the constitution,” said the cardinal.

The influential church leader hit newly-elected President Ranil Wickremesinghe for acting “against the basic right of the people to protest, which is a democratic right.”

The cardinal said policemen and soldiers attacked the mostly young protesters even after they announced that they were preparing to leave the protest sites. Local media reported of injuries and arrests after the attack.

Cardinal Ranjith said the incident was contrary to what President Wickremesinghe announced as his duty as the new president of the country, adding that the president is trying to “dictate terms and force himself on the people with the use of thuggery and oppression.”

“We hold the president responsible for any future disaster that might come as a result of his actions,” said the cardinal. “It is the responsibility of the president to look into this attack,” he added.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka also condemned the attack in a statement released on July 23, warning that the incident “will further exacerbate mass unrest.”

On Friday, soldiers and policemen wielding batons and armed with automatic assault rifles charged on people blockading the sea-front Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.

Hundreds of soldiers removed demonstrators’ barricades and tents outside the colonial-era building, while the last remaining protesters on the premises — some were still on the steps — were baton charged away.

The operation came hours before the new president appointed an old friend as prime minister and the ousted head of state’s personal lawyer as foreign minister.

Wickremesinghe was elected by legislators on Wednesday to replace Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled to Singapore and resigned after demonstrators chased him from his palace.

The remaining protesters — far fewer than the thousands who overran several government buildings earlier this month — have been demanding Wickremesinghe also quit.

They accuse him of protecting the Rajapaksa clan who have dominated politics for much of the last two decades.

Human Rights Watch said more than 50 people were injured in the crackdown and called on authorities to release the detained and prosecute those responsible for the violence. – with a report from AFP

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