Sri Lanka's new president says non-violent protests can continue after crackdown

Demonstrators celebrate while offering milk rice at the Presidential Secretariat after Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena officially announced resignation of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, amid the country's economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 15 July, 2022

Sri Lanka's new president Ranil Wickremesinghe told diplomats this week that non-violent protests against his government will be allowed to continue, including in the commercial capital Colombo, his office said in a statement on Sunday.

In a pre-dawn raid on Friday, hundreds of security personnel dismantled part of an anti-government protest camp outside the presidential secretariat, raising fears of a wider crackdown by Wickremesinghe who was sworn in a day earlier.

"President Ranil Wickremesinghe has reaffirmed Sri Lanka's commitment to upholding the rights of peaceful, non-violent assembly," his office said in a statement, describing a meeting with Colombo-based envoys.

"The Diplomats were also briefed on the measures being taken to ensure that non-violent protests were allowed to proceed within the city without endangering property or lives."

Friday's raid drew condemnation from the United Nations and Western envoys who urged the government to exercise restraint, saying the use of force could further destabilise the island nation suffering its worst economic crisis in seven decades.

Wickremesinghe took office following victory in a parliamentary vote after his successor, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fled the country and resigned after mass protests triggered by his mishandling of the economy.

The country of 22 million people has been suffering persistent shortages of fuel, food and other necessities, having run out of foreign exchange to bring in essential imports.