Sri Lanka sent thousands of troops and police on Tuesday to demand time to return home after five people were killed in a series of violent protests in weeks of protests over unprecedented economic conditions.
Nearly 200 were injured on Monday as Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, but that did not dampen public anger.
He had to be rescued from a pre-military operation on Tuesday after thousands of anti-government protesters stormed his Colombo residence at night, with police firing tear gas and a warning to stop the crowd.
“After a morning job, the former PM and his family were transferred to the army,” said a senior security official. AFP. At least ten petrol bombs have been dropped on the compound.
Rajapaksa’s house power grab has been fueled by months of power outages and shortages in Sri Lanka, the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains in office, however, with extensive authority and command over the security forces.
After weeks of peaceful anti-government protests, violence erupted on Monday when supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa – entering the capital from rural areas – attacked protesters with sticks and clubs.
“We were beaten, the media was beaten, women and children were beaten,” one witness told AFP, requesting anonymity.
Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd and announced their arrival home in Colombo, an increase that later extended to 22 million Asian countries.
Authorities say the return period will be extended Wednesday morning, with government and private offices, as well as shops and schools, ordered to remain closed by Tuesday.
U.S. Ambassador Julie Chung tweeted that Washington condemned “violence against peaceful protesters” and called on the Sri Lankan government to “conduct a thorough investigation, including the arrest and prosecution of anyone who incites violence”.
He was shot dead
Apart from the time to return home, anti-government protesters have been urging police to retaliate against government supporters for the attack until Monday night.
Outside Colombo, a representative of the ruling party Amarakeerthi Athukorala shot two people – killing a 27-year-old man – after being surrounded by a mob of anti-government protesters, police said.
“Then he killed himself with his revolver,” said a police officer AFP by telephone.
Athukorala’s bodyguard was also found dead at the scene, police said.
An unnamed ruling party politician opened fire on protesters, killing two and injuring five in the south of the island, police added.
Angry mobs set fire to the homes of more than a dozen pro-Rajapaksa politicians, as well as some vehicles, while buses and trucks used by government loyalists in Colombo and surrounding areas were also targeted.
Several Rajapaksa homes have been burned down in various parts of the country, while the family museum in their ancestral village has been destroyed.
Doctors at Colombo National Hospital intervened to rescue wounded government supporters, with soldiers breaking through closed gates to board a trailer of the wounded.
“They may be killers, but we are the patients who need to be treated first,” shouted a doctor in the crowd closing the emergency room.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, 76, said she was resigning to pave the way for a unity government.
But it was unclear whether the opposition could join any coalition government, as it had previously refused to rule with any members of the Rajapaksa family. Under the Sri Lankan political system, even with the formation of a new coalition government, the president will have the power to appoint and dismiss staff and judges, and to enjoy a fair and just prosecution.
“Unless President Rajapaksa goes down, no one – not even the street people or key political figures – will be forgiven,” analyst Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Center said. AFP.
The strike came after the coronavirus censured the island’s significant revenue for tourism and remittances, which scarred the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
This has forced the government to shut down much of its exports, leading to severe shortages, rising prices and long-term power outages.
In April, Sri Lanka announced that it had defaulted on its $ 51 billion debt.
It is unclear what President Rajapaksa’s next move will be in the face of the protests, according to Akhil Bery of the Asia Society Policy Institute.
Without following his brother’s resignation, he could set up an acting government – before he could stop – sending troops and police to stop the protests, or try to keep them from “dying naturally”, Berry said. AFP.
But whatever happens, the next government will have to take “unpopular decisions” to fix the troubled economy, he said.
Any bail from the International Monetary Fund – now under negotiation – would mean “high taxes and minimal government spending, which is a toxic political combination”, he added.