The Sri Lankan military and police personnel late on Thursday night raided the Galle Face site in Colombo where protestors have been holding peaceful sit-in demonstration for months, The Hindu reported.

Visuals from the site near the Sri Lankan presidential secretariat showed tents set up by the protestors being dismantled and them being detained by the security forces.

The security personnel even beat up several protestors, witnesses told Newswire. At least one journalist of BBC Tamil was assaulted, his mobile phone snatched and the videos were deleted, the news outlet reported on its website.

“A joint operation involving the military, police and police special forces was launched in the early hours to recover the presidential secretariat from the protestors as they have no legal right to hold it,” Police spokesperson Nalin Thalduwa told Reuters. “Nine people, including two injured, have been arrested.”

The raids took place less than 24 hours after Ranil Wickremesinghe took oath as the new president of the crisis-hit country. The voting became necessary after former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned from the post last week amid Sri Lanka’s worst-ever economic crisis.

Sri Lanka, a country with a population of 2.2 crore, has run out of foreign exchange reserves limiting essential imports of fuel, food and medicine. The island nation’s inflation rate touched 54.6% year-over-year in June while food inflation shot up to 80%.

The economic meltdown led to Sri Lanka defaulting on its $51-billion (over Rs 4 lakh crore) foreign debt in April. The country is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.

Meanwhile, on Friday morning, Wickremesinghe issued a gazette to deploy all three armed forces across the country to maintain public order, Newswire reported.

‘Cowardly assault,’ says Opposition leader

Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa on Friday described the military action on the protestors as a “cowardly assault”.

“A useless display of ego and brute force putting innocent lives at risk & endangers Sri Lanka’s international image, at a critical juncture,” he wrote in a tweet.

Human rights body Amnesty International said that the raids were unacceptable.

“The right to protest must be protected. Sri Lankan authorities must immediately cease these acts of violence and release those arrested unlawfully in this manner,” the South Asia unit of the body wrote in a tweet.

It added that preventing journalists from doing their work violated the freedom of the press.