Sri Lanka's Prez Secretariat resumes operations after 100 days

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka‘s Presidential Secretariat, which was stormed by a sea of anti-government protesters in early July, resumed operation from Monday, 100 days after the building’s entry gate was blocked, officials said.
The building’s entry gate has been blocked by the protesters since April 9. On July 9, the protesters stormed the building and occupied it. In the early hours of Friday last, police and security forces conducted a raid and took back control of the building from the protesters on the order of the crisis-hit island nation’s new President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The presidential secretariat which was occupied by the protesters from July 9 till Friday last is re-opened and the staff reported to work on Monday, officials said.
Security forces had already opened Galle road for traffic in front of the Secretariat.
The protest, also known as the Aragalaya — a Sinhalese word for “struggle”, disrupted work for a prolonged period at the Presidential Secretariat, which had gone through heavy damages during the agitation and required necessary renovations. Cleaning and repair work were undertaken over the weekend to ready the Presidential Secretariat for the reopening.
Protesters have been camping outside the presidential office, demanding the resignation of former President Rajapaksa, and Wickremesinghe, a key Rajapaksa ally. Protesters have blamed Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe for mismanaging the economy that has left the country’s 22 million people struggling to buy fuel, food and basic necessities.
The use of force to evict the protesters was condemned by the international community and the rights groups. However, the government defended the move.
President Wickremesinghe has said he would extend support to the peaceful protesters but would be tough on those who try to promote violence under the guise of peaceful protests.
The government said investigations into the occupation of the presidential secretariat, the damage caused to it by the occupation and alleged stealing of some valuable items from the building are underway.
In another development, a firearm snatched by protesters from a soldier during an attempt to break into Sri Lanka’s parliamentary complex earlier this month has been recovered, police said here on Monday.
The Navy divers found the T56 rifle snatched from a soldier by the protesters on July 13 during a search operation at the Diyawanna bridge within the close proximity of Parliament on Saturday, they said.
A massive protest on July 13 attempted to break into the parliamentary complex in continuation of the popular uprising on July 9, which forced the fleeing of the then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the country to the Maldives and then to Singapore.
Police said the protesters had snatched the weapon and ammunition from a soldier during the protest.

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