Sri Lanka amends emergency law to protect LGBTQI+ community
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankan protesters have pushed back against President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s suggestions for alternative unrest sites, with the iconic GotaGoGama site set to be shut down following a court order following the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Protesters say the Aragalaya site on the Galle Face promenade opposite the presidential secretariat is a symbol of a nationwide phenomenon.
Wickremesinghe became president thanks to protesters who took to the streets after being hit by high inflation and fuel and cooking gas shortages due to currency shortages from money printing.
In a meeting with protesters on Friday, President Ranil Wickremesinghe suggested that protesters move the “site of unrest” to Campbell Park, Hyde Park or Viharamahadevi Park. The president had also suggested to the young protesters that the floating market in the city of Colombo be transformed into a space for protesters to “chill out, enjoy a beer” and enjoy art, music and discussion.
Several groups involved in the Aragalaya protests told EconomyNext that the occupation part of the grassroots movement was effectively over following the court order.
End of GotaGoGama, the fight continues
“It’s not an occupy movement anymore,” Buddhi Karunaratne of the Black Cap Movement told EconomyNext. “We’re respecting the court order, we’re respecting the wishes of the people…but we haven’t quit the fight.”
The Galle Face protest site was set up on April 09, when Sri Lankans decided to camp outside the presidential secretariat and show their dissent against former president Gotabaya Rajapaksha and his government, whose printing money to keep interest rates low led to economic collapse. .
“The government does not have to report unrest sites,” Samith Bodhipaksha of the Sarwapakshika Aragalakaruwo group told EconomyNext.
“People have a constitutional right to protest, and they will choose a site that suits them.”
The largely peaceful movement was organically initiated by independent individuals from all walks of life, who were suffering from an economic crisis. Some eventually regrouped into organized groups.
Protesters had asked about the possibility of erecting a monument or popular university for Sri Lankans to improve their political culture to pay tribute to the site of Galle Face unrest.
“It is a symbol of peaceful protests that have succeeded in overthrowing a government and sending leaders home,” said Sahan Wiratunga of the Liberal Fellowship representatives.
During the discussion, the President floated the idea of converting the Manning Floating Market into a place where young people can gather to express themselves.
“They were looking in a few places if young people wanted to come together and demonstrate on a particular issue. He said if [protestors] wanted to have a good time, there was no problem having a beer and having a good time,” according to Wiratunga.
Karunaratne said the president suggested the floating market as a place to “play music and have an art gallery”.
“We decided to create a space for [protestors] with the art and all…I told them they could call it RanilGoGama if they wanted, so my name is too, at least,” Wickremesinghe said in a recording that aired on national news networks.
Protesters said while the idea of a youth center was not unreasonable, it was not the change they were calling for, and stability should be the priority.
Wickremesinghe is a connoisseur of art and literature and owned many valuable and historic books and works of art, many of which were lost in a fire that was set down at his home by “fascists”, as he called them.
He has cracked down harshly on protesters since his appointment, with a key union leader also arrested.
Only the tip of the iceberg
Protesters are still calling for system change and say the Galle Face protest was a representation of a national movement.
Bodhipaksha said, “Ranil and [in the past] Mahinda Rajapaksha tries to put wrestling in one area…wrestling is all over the country, Galle Face is just a symbol.
They also said they would continue to push for system change.
“We are finishing the occupation part [of the aragale] but we are striving with aragale to bring reforms, to bring more representation of young people and women,” said Wiratunga.
“We took to the streets not just to oust Gotabaya, but to bring about reforms, to change the system. So we continue until that happens. (Colombo/August 6/2022)