Dinesh Gunawardena appointed Sri Lanka prime minister

New President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced his successor as security forces cleared protest camp in Colombo

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Sri Lanka's President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed veteran politician Dinesh Gunawardena as prime minister on Friday as security forces cleared a protest camp near the presidential palace.

Mr Gunawardena's appointment comes a day after Mr Wickremesinghe was sworn in as president to complete the term of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country after protesters stormed his residence.

Security forces arrested several people early on Friday and cleared the main camp that protesters had occupied for more than three months during demonstrations calling for the resignation of the nation’s leaders over the country's economic collapse.

Army and police personnel arrived in lorries and buses around midnight and removed tents and protest banners at the site near the presidential palace in the capital, Colombo, where demonstrators had gathered for the past 104 days.

They blocked off roads leading to the site, carried long poles and also beat up at least two journalists, according to witnesses.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the main lawyers’ body in the country, also said at least two lawyers were assaulted when they went to the protest site to offer their counsel.

Its statement on Friday called for a halt to the “unjustified and disproportionate actions” of armed forces against civilians.

The months of protests focused on Mr Rajapaksa and his family’s political dynasty.

However, the new president has drawn the ire of protesters as he is perceived to be a Rajapaksa surrogate and an example of the country’s problematic political establishment.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has left its 22 million people struggling with shortages of essentials such as medicine, fuel and food.

On Monday, in his role as acting president, Mr Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency that gave him wide authority to act in the interests of public security and order.

Authorities were granted broad powers to search premises and detain people, and the emergency order allows Mr Wickremesinghe to change or suspend any law.

On Friday, he issued a notice under the state of emergency calling on the armed forces to maintain law and order.

The emergency order must be reviewed by Parliament regularly to decide whether to extend it or let it expire.

Mr Wickremesinghe has a significant amount of experience in diplomatic and international affairs, and has presided over bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

He revealed on Monday that talks with the fund were near a conclusion and that discussions on securing help from other countries had also progressed.

Mr Wickremesinghe also said the government had taken steps to resolve fuel and cooking gas shortages.

Updated: July 22, 2022, 2:10 PM
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