Sri Lanka leader to shed executive powers

More than 2,000 people walked, cycled and drove to join Gota Go Gama protests

By Qadijah Irshad

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Published: Wed 11 May 2022, 6:40 PM

Last updated: Thu 12 May 2022, 10:43 AM

Sri Lanka tightened security on Wednesday after protestors continued to defy an all-island curfew following two days of mob violence and arson attacks.

On Wednesday evening, more than 2,000 protestors walked, cycled and drove to the rebuilt Gota Go Gama protest sit that was destroyed by supporters of the newly resigned Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday.

“They can’t destroy us so easily,” said Maheshi Ratnayake, a university student who has been coming to the sea front promenade in capital Colombo every single day for the alst 35 days since the inception of Gota Go Gama, named after president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s nickname.

“We are expecting a bigger crowd today, and the authorities are trying to stop us. But I’m sure there will be at least 10,000 people here by nightfall,” said Ratnayake, helping mend a damaged tent.

Rajapaksa supporters stormed the mini village replete with a library, a kitchen that produces free food for 700 people at a time, an art gallery, the Red Cross and a mini hospital, burning and destroying most of it before the protestors lashed back on Monday.

Drunk and violent Rajapaksa supporters beat peaceful protestors with iron rods and clubs, critically injuring many, including priests, monks and disabled former soldiers. The victims of the carnage who have been calling for the President and his brother the Prime Minister to step down in a peaceful protest for over a month say they will “never give up.”

Late afternoon on Wednesday, the police issued a warning to the protestors gathered at the village to adhere to the curfew and disband.

“Gathering in a public place during curfew regulations is a violation of the law. You have been requested to disperse,” the police announced over a loud speaker placed in front of the Presidential secretariat at the Galle Face, while protestors laughed and applauded.

The city of Colombo remains heavily fortified by police and military presence, who turned back travellers without permit. Local media personnel tweeted that journalists were also curtailed from travelling, even with their media permits. Burnt and damaged buses that brought in the Rajapaksa supporters from out station dot central city areas as testament to what the protestors call “people power.”

More than 100 vehicles were damaged during the two days of rioting and over 100 structures, burnt or damaged, according to Army media. Homes of the prime minister Rajapaksa, a hotel belonging to his son Yoshitha, the ancestral home of the Rajapaksas and several homes and businesses of pro-Rajapaksa parliamentarians were razed to the ground by angry protestors on Monday and Tuesday nights.

The country remains under emergency law, and security forces have been ordered to shoot looters and law-breakers on site, and yet protestors continue to converge, demanding justice for what they call the “wrecking of a nation by the corrupt Rajapaksa family.”

Farzana Mohamed, who has been joining the peaceful protests since its inception a month ago, got through the army barricades to reach the protest site on the pretext of going to the hospital.

“The prime minister resigning is not enough. We want the president to resign and we want to be certain that not a single Rajapaksa family member who have collectively brought our country to its knees remain in power,” said Mohamed, sporting a broken nose and split lips as proof to Monday’s violent attacks when an attacker punched and beat her up.

At a press briefing on Wednesday the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, General Kamal Gunaratne indicated that the curfew that will be lifted in Thursday morning, may be reimposed, “according to the situation.”

He also confirmed that the Prime Minister who was evacuated by the military in a rescue operation on Tuesday night when protestors stormed his residence, is currently at the Trincomalee Naval Base, Northeast of Sri Lanka.

“He will be given adequate security to which he is entitled to as former president,” said Gunaratne.

Eight people died and over 200 were hospitalised in the two-day violence by some anti-government elements, triggered by the mob attack of peaceful protestors.

Army spokesman Brigadier Nilantha Premartne told Khaleej Times that certain locations including the Prime Minister’s electorate district Kurunegala, is under “heavy watch.”

Although the number of arrests were not confirmed by the police, spokesperson Nihal Kalduwa said that the police will start clamping down on dissidents starting today.

The police media announced that legal action is underway for the Admins of 59 social media groups “that were used to gather people for the violent incidents on Monday.”

Months of severe economic crisis has crippled the island nation, forcing it to near bankruptcy. The tourism-dependent nation’s foreign currency has dwindled, and the island cannot pay back its debts, causing a severe shortage of essential food, medicine, fuel and cooking gas.

Frustrations ran higher as Sri Lankans, who blame the Rajapaksa family for the corruption and mismanagement of funds, began experiencing blackouts, stretching to eight hours a day in the past months, due to the unavailability of fuel for power plants.

As the economic crisis deepens with no government in place, the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe warned that “things will get worse” if the instability continues.

“If the current situation continues in the next two days, we could have 10 to 12-hour power cuts daily, massive shortages of fuel, and other essential items further deteriorating the current situation,” Weerasinghe told reporters on Wednesday.


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