Protesters say would defy order to vacate Aragalaya site and adjacent areas

COLOMBO – A group of anti-government demonstrators at the Galle Face protest site near the Sri Lankan presidential office on Thursday (4) vowed to defy an order from the police to vacate the area by Friday (5) evening.

The protesters said the police had not obtained a court order to remove them from Galle Face area, which was the epicentre of anti-government protests against the previous Rajapaksa regime.

They also claimed that the area was designated as an agitation site by the previous government of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. So there was no need to quit the protest site, they said.

The Sri Lankan police on Wednesday (3) set an August 5 deadline for the protesters to remove all illegal tents and camps at Galle Face near the presidential office.

The protesters have been occupying the area, including the gate of the Presidential Secretariat, since April 9, forcing former Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign as the president.

After the resignation of Rajapaksa on July 14 and the appointment of his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe, the protesters were forcibly evicted from the Presidential Secretariat and the gate on Jul 22, drawing widespread international condemnation.

The police have issued a notice saying that all illegal structures at the site which belong to the Urban Development Authority should be removed by the deadline or face legal action.

Protesters said they were contemplating taking legal action against the police notice.

A protest was held on Thursday to demand the release from the police custody of Joseph Stalin, a prominent trade union leader and a front liner of the protest movement.

He was arrested on Wednesday for defying a court order to refrain from protesting on May 28.

The main opposition leader Sajith Premadasa who visited the police station on Thursday demanded the government to release Stalin and stop the crackdown against protesters.

Sri Lanka has seen months of mass unrest over the worst economic crisis, with the government declaring bankruptcy in mid-April by refusing to honour its international debt.

The worst economic crisis since 1948 has led to severe shortages of fuel and other essentials.



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