29 November 2022
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COLOMBO: Police said Saturday they arrested a Sri Lankan trade union leader who allegedly took two official flags from deposed president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s palace and used them as a bedsheet and a sarong.

Tens of thousands of people, incensed by the island nation’s economic crisis, stormed Rajapaksa’s residence and seafront office earlier this month, forcing the leader to flee the country and later resign.

The man’s arrest on Friday night comes after a social media post showed him using one of the official presidential flags as a bedsheet and the other as a sarong, a police officer told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

“We identified him from the videos filmed and posted by his son,” the officer said. “He told investigators that he burnt one flag and we have recovered the one he used as a sarong.”

The man was remanded in custody for two weeks pending further investigations, the officer added.

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

Rajapaksa had been blamed by protesters for mismanaging the nation’s finances and public anger had simmered for months before the mass demonstrations that forced his ouster.

Soon after protesters overran the Presidential Palace, there were social media posts of them frolicking in the presidential pool and bouncing on four-poster beds inside the sprawling compound.

The nearby Temple Trees compound, the official prime minister’s residence, was also overrun on the same day and protesters had removed televisions and other valuables.

Police said an inventory was being taken at the colonial-era buildings which are repositories of valuable art and antiquities.

But protesters also turned over to authorities around 17.5 million rupees ($46,000) in crisp banknotes that had been found in one of the presidential palace’s rooms.

Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has vowed a tough line on “trouble-makers” and police have arrested several protest leaders in recent days.

Parliament extended a state of emergency this week, giving the military sweeping powers to maintain order and detain suspects for long periods.

The military last week demolished a protest camp outside the president’s office that had campaigned for Rajapaksa’s ouster — a move that drew international condemnation accusing troops of using excessive force on unarmed demonstrators.

Abdul Gh Lone

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