Sri Lanka arrests protest leaders, extends emergency laws

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has vowed a tough line against "troublemakers". PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Two activists who helped lead mass demonstrations that toppled Sri Lanka's president were arrested on Wednesday (July 27), police said, as Parliament extended tough emergency laws imposed to restore order.

Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to flee when tens of thousands of protesters, incensed by the island nation's unprecedented economic crisis, stormed his residence in the capital Colombo.

He later flew to Singapore and tendered his resignation, while his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe declared a state of emergency and vowed a tough line against "troublemakers".

Police said in separate statements on Wednesday that they had arrested activists Kusal Sandaruwan and Weranga Pushpika on unlawful assembly charges.

After Mr Rajapaksa fled, Sandaruwan was seen in social media footage counting a large cache of banknotes found in the president's home.

Police have also released photographs of 14 suspects wanted in connection with an arson attack on Mr Wickremesinghe's home on the same day the president's office and residence were over-run.

The arrests of the two activists come a day after student leader Dhaniz Ali was nabbed when he boarded a Dubai-bound flight at Sri Lanka's main airport in the evening.

Police said there was a warrant for his arrest in connection with a magistrate's court case, without giving further details.

Lawmakers also voted on Wednesday to formalise the state of emergency imposed by Mr Wickremesinghe until mid-August.

The emergency ordinance, which empowers troops to arrest and detain suspects for long periods, would have lapsed on Wednesday if it had not been ratified by Parliament.

Last week, police demolished Colombo's main anti-government protest camp in a pre-dawn assault that raised alarm among foreign diplomats and rights groups.

Public anger simmered for months in Sri Lanka before the huge demonstration on July 9 that brought an end to Mr Rajapaksa's rule.

He was blamed for mismanaging the nation's finances and steering the economy into a tailspin after the country ran out of foreign currency needed to import vital goods.

Sri Lanka's 22 million people have endured months of lengthy blackouts, record inflation, and shortages of food, fuel and petrol.

Protesters had also demanded the resignation of Mr Wickremesinghe and accused him of protecting the Rajapaksa clan, who have dominated Sri Lankan politics for much of the last two decades.

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