Sri Lanka Crisis: Army Assures It Won’t Resort To Violence To Quell Anti-Govt Protests

New Delhi: The Sri Lankan Army on Saturday vowed to uphold the Constitution while it assured that it will not interfere with the ongoing anti-government protests across the island nation.

The clarification came in response to widespread speculation that the embattled Gotabaya Rajapaksa government may use the military to launch a crackdown on the protest near the presidential secretariat, news agency PTI reported.

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As per the Sri Lankan Army’s statement, it would not resort to violence to quell the anti-government demonstrations against the unprecedented economic crisis that has led to acute food shortages, soaring prices, and power cuts.

The Army stressed that it will intervene only if the police “call us to assist them.”

“Troops, as everyone witnessed in the past few days, have not at all interfered with any of those peaceful protesters or organisations, nor have they acted against the interests of the State as disciplined members of an organisation which brought peace to this country through immense and invaluable sacrifices,” the statement read, as quoted by PTI.

It also dismissed as “completely false, fabricated and baseless” the speculation, especially on social media, that it was undergoing training to assault the protesters.

The Army has urged the public not to be “provoked or misled by those planned machinations and treacherous gestures as the Army is assuredly committed to safeguard the State and its people round the clock in conformity with the provisions in the Constitution.”

“The Army very strongly and categorically deny those sinister moves and flatly reject those attempts, meant to bring disrepute to this organisation and simultaneously urge the civic-conscious and right-minded citizens of this country to place the full confidence in the troops as it has been done in the past because current serving troops remain more trained, professionally-qualified and well-suited to take on any security challenge, in this scenario, only if the Police call us to assist them,” the statement read.

Sri Lanka continues to face the worst economic crisis it has seen since it got independence from the United Kingdom in 1948.

The island nation’s foreign currency reserves have virtually run dry which means that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.

The Army’s unusual clarification came after former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka commented that the troops must not obey illegal orders inferring a crackdown on the protesters.

In an address to Army Commander Gen Shavendra Silva and Kamal Gunaratne, a top bureaucrat of the Defence Ministry, Fonseka stressed that the Army must rethink “before acting on unlawful orders.”

Fonseka was promoted to the rank of field marshal for commanding the Army to victory over the LTTE in 2009 and had both Silva and Gunaratne serving under him.

Here are the top developments:

  •  Sri Lankan police on Saturday removed several empty trucks parked at a protest site near the presidential secretariat, perhaps averting a crackdown on the protesters agitating against the government’s handling of the economic crisis. In a statement, the lawyers’ body Bar Association of Sri Lanka warned the government that any attempt to disrupt protests will have grave repercussions.
  • The Colombo Stock Exchange will remain temporarily closed for a week from Monday to provide investors an opportunity to have “more clarity and understanding” of the current economic conditions that would help them “to make informed investment decisions.” “The stock market will remain temporarily closed for a period of five business days from April 18, 2022,” the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC) said in a statement on Saturday.
  • President Rajapaksa held several rounds of discussions on Saturday with top officials on ongoing issues, PTI reported the President’s Media Division as informing.

    Minister of Finance Ali Sabry, Governor of the Central Bank Nandalal Weerasinghe, State Minister Shehan Semasinghe, Secretary to the President Gamini Senarath, Chief Adviser to the President Lalith Weeratunga, and Secretary to the Ministry of Finance KMM Siriwardena, participated in the first discussion. Another discussion was held with officials of the Ministries of Finance, Energy, and Health.

  • The collective of unions and mass organisations has decided to observe April 20 as a national day of protest. The working masses will be mobilised to continue to strike in their workplace.

    President of the Federation of Health Professionals, Ravi Kumudesh on behalf of the Collective of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations said that all trade unions in Sri Lanka are working together with the collective.

  • Sri Lanka’s central bank has announced that it will have to stop making payments on its huge foreign debt burden because it is so short of foreign currency. The government is now desperate for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

A large number of protesters have gathered at Galle Face near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s secretariat since April 9, seeking the entire Rajapaksa family to resign from the powerful government positions they have been holding. 

The widespread anti-government protests are in the wake of the poor handling of Sri Lanka’s ongoing economic crisis that has brought the nation to a financial standstill.

Notably, as Sri Lanka faces an acute shortage of forex, an Indian credit line of USD 500 million for fuel imports has provided a lifeline to the island nation.

India recently announced to extend a USD 1 billion line of credit to Sri Lanka as part of its financial assistance to the country to deal with the economic crisis following a previous USD 500 billion line of credit in February to help it purchase petroleum products.

(With Agency Inputs)

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