Sri Lankan police officers “assaulted” a group of Sri Lankan soldiers on Tuesday after the servicemen approached Sri Lanka’s parliament building in Colombo in an aggressive manner as part of an unannounced visit, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported on Wednesday.
Other Sri Lankan and regional outfits confirmed the incident, noting that the army officers were reportedly masked and unidentified as members of the armed forces, so police did not appear to intentionally attack the military.
“A group of masked soldiers holding assault rifles drove through the crowd on unmarked bikes at a protest near Parliament, in which children, women and the elderly were also participating,” India’s NDTV reported. “This led to a verbal confrontation between the armed soldiers and the police when the officials tried to stop them, prompting Army Chief Shavendra Silva to call for an inquiry.”
Local reports indicate that the army officers were acting on the orders of their superiors, but the army had not given the national police force any prior notice that soldiers were on the way. The police officers reportedly barred the soldiers from getting too close to the parliament building.
“Police officers who were at Poluwa junction near the parliamentary complex should not have assaulted the army officers who approached the area by motor cycles on Tuesday [April 5],” Sri Lankan Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka told Sri Lanka’s parliament on April 6.
“I would have even opposed the army officers if they assaulted police officers,” Foneska, who is also a member of the parliament of Sri Lanka, said.
“At the same time I would like to say that Army officers should not have come in motor bikes without number plates. I don’t know whether these officers were sent by someone but anyway their arrival in the scene cannot be justified,” the high-ranking military officer added.
Sri Lanka’s national parliament building in Colombo has served as the symbolic and literal center of heavy turmoil in recent days amid major changes to the island nation’s government.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a national state of emergency on April 1 amid growing anti-government protests denouncing the country’s dire financial crisis. The order followed hours after Rajapaksa suffered a threat to his personal safety when a thousands-strong mob surrounded his home in Colombo on March 31, demanding he resign.
“Public anger is at a fever pitch, with crowds attempting to storm the homes of several government figures since the weekend and large demonstrations elsewhere in the country,” Agence France-Press (AFP) detailed of Sri Lanka’s protests on April 5.
“Tuesday’s parliamentary session was the first since dozens of MPs withdrew their support for Rajapaksa’s government, including 16 lawmakers from the president’s own Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) and its former coalition allies,” AFP observed on Tuesday.
“The government is now five short of a majority in the 225-member House, but it was unclear whether legislators would attempt to introduce a no-confidence motion that would compel it to resign,” the news agency noted.
Sri Lankan opposition parties rejected on April 4 President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s call to form a new unity administration led by Gotabaya and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former president himself and the president’s brother.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on April 5 revoked his country’s state of emergency order. The edict had granted police the power to make arrests without warrants and banned people from leaving their residences.
“In a gazette notification number 2274/10, the President said he has withdrawn the Emergency rule ordinance which gave security forces sweeping powers to curb any disturbance in the country,” the Indian Express reported.
Sri Lanka’s financial crisis stems from a deficit of foreign currency reserves, upon which the island traditionally relies to purchase vital imported goods. Observers have blamed the Chinese coronavirus pandemic for cutting Sri Lanka off from its usual sources of foreign currency, namely the tourism industry and remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad. The fund crisis translated to severe shortages of food, fuel, and medicines across Sri Lanka over the past month, with anti-government protests sparking in early March.