By Sarasi Wijeratne

Attempts by the government to stop an opposition protest failed after thousands of protestors turned up in the heart of Colombo and marched to the presidential secretariat near the city’s commercial hub. At times the protestors had to brave the sporadic showers that hit them.

The large turn- out was despite the police stopping thousands of others from provincial areas who tried to come to Colombo to join the protest. They had reportedly come from areas such as Badulla, Bandarawela, Kandy, Haputale, Gampaha and Peliyagoda,Anuradhapura while others had been stopped at the Southern Expressway and on the Old Galle Road.  There were scenes of protestors lying across the road and having heated exchanges with the police about why they were not allowed to pass through. At least one digital media showed images of spikes that had been laid across the road to prevent buses carrying protestors from passing. The protestors who were prevented from coming to Colombo had gone ahead and held pockets of local protests. They have vowed to take the government to court for preventing them from taking part in the protest.


Days before the protest which was under the slogan ‘protest against the cursed government’, the opposition made an advance public announcement about it. Soon after, the government declared new anti- coronavirus regulations limiting the size of public gatherings which were updated yesterday. The organisers however said they will still go ahead with the protest.


The police in several areas applied to their local magistrates court to get an order to stop the protest from taking place.  Among those who turned down the police request were the Fort Magistrate, the Colombo Chief Magistrate and the additional magistrate in the Mount Lavinia court. Some magistrates courts, including those in Mahara, Kaduwela and Homagamaissued orders to stop the protest.  


Defiant protestors chanted ‘Gota closed, we came’ alluding to the government’s attempts to stop the protest from happening.  


Some protestors were carrying effigies of President Gotabaya Rajapakse, his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse and their older brother ChamalRajapakse who is also a senior minister in the government.


Snap checkpoints and barricades that had been set up by the security forces were reported at locations in the country with a heavy military presence near Parliament.


The government is mired in issues that affect the everyday lives of the people and the protestors wanted to highlight these for it to take action. Alongside the government bankrolling the economy with currency swaps, loans and the sale of state assets there have been queues that have sprung up for essentials including rice, milk powder, sugar, domestic gas and building materials such as cement. The government denied an impending fuel shortage as motorists lined up at gas stations yesterday for fuel.    


The protest was organized by the main opposition, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, whose senior leaders were heading it. Among the people were the leader of the opposition Sajith Premadasa and frontline party members Rajitha Senaratne, Harsha De Silva and PataliChampika Ranawake. Premadasa told the crowd that he is ready to take over the government and to build the country which will have a place for those with talent and ability.  


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