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Sri Lanka govt's supporters continue attack on protesters

Five people, including a ruling party parliamentarian, killed in clashes as PM submits resignation



A vehicle of Sri Lanka's ruling party supporters burns after set on fire during a clash with anti-government demonstrators. — Reuters
A vehicle of Sri Lanka's ruling party supporters burns after set on fire during a clash with anti-government demonstrators. — Reuters

By Qadijah Irshad in Colombo

Published: Mon 9 May 2022, 10:46 PM

Last updated: Mon 9 May 2022, 11:40 PM

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Monday afternoon after his supporters attacked peaceful anti-government protesters and set fire to their camps outside the presidential secretariat in the capital Colombo. Five people, including a ruling party parliamentarian, were killed in clashes across the country.

The prime minister handed in his resignation to his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as civilians took to the streets defying an island-wide curfew and lashing back at Rajapaksa supporters who attacked them with sticks and poles.

A gazette notification later on Monday confirmed the prime minister's resignation.

“The prime minister has sent in his resignation to the president, but we don’t know whether it will be accepted or not,” said Weliwita.

The 76-year-old strongman, who had previously been president for 10 years, said in the letter that he is resigning “with immediate effect so that you will be able to appoint an all-party government to guide the country out of the current economic crisis”.

However, opposition leaders told Khaleej Times that until the resignation is accepted, “we will never know”.

Sources said former minister and speaker Karu Jayasuriya is tipped to lead a unity government.

Violence continued to escalate through the night even after the announcement of Rajapaksa’s resignation. Shots were fired from inside the prime minister’s Temple Trees residence when hundreds of angry men and women tried to break through the barricades. Rajapaksa’s ancestral home in Kurunegala, some 100km from capital Colombo, was set ablaze by mobs. Kurunegala is Rajapaksa’s electorate and the district with the largest number of his supporters, who have backed the man who defeated the Tamil Tiger rebel group in 2009.

Monday’s protests also saw the first deaths in the months-long peaceful protests. A legislator from the ruling party, Amarakeerthi Athukorala, opened fire on protesters blocking his vehicle, shooting dead one man and critically injuring another two. Police said that he later shot himself and was found dead, when mobs surrounded the building he tried to take refuge in.

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Public frustration has been rising in the past two months as Sri Lanka faces unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence in 1948. The crisis is partly caused by a shortage of foreign currency and what the public blames as mismanagement and “stealing” of funds by the Rajapaksas. Sri Lankans have been battling months of blackouts, a severe shortage of staple food, medication and fuel, leading to kilometres-long queues around the island.

“We are hungry. My children are hungry. My mother is dying without her insulin because we can’t afford to buy anything anymore. And now they set these thugs on us. We are not afraid anymore. Enough now. We will fight back,” said 46-year-old Mangalika Premaratne, a daily wage earner, who stepped out to join the growing anti-Rajapaksa crowds on the streets defying the curfew.

The hitherto peaceful protesters turned into violent mobs, attacking their persecutors and the vehicles they were travelling in. A bus that transported the Rajapaksa supporters was set aflame in the centre of the city. A swell of anti-government protesters stripped and dunked their attackers in the Bera Lake in Colombo.

Anti-government protesters also took to the highway leading to the country’s main airport, checking vehicles for fleeing Rajapaksa supporters. According to social media reports, the prime minister’s family, including his eldest son Namal Rajapaksa, who is also the minister of Youth and Sports, fled the country today.

“The entire country knows Mahinda Rajapaksa paid these people to create chaos and attack the Gota Go Gama (Gota Go Village), which has become a symbol of our unity and struggle,” said Mihin Ratnayake, a 31-year-old accountant who left his office by mid-day to defend what he called “my future”.

Prior to the attacks, Rajapaksa addressed around 3,000 of his supporters, promising to safeguard the “interest of the nation”.

Following the address, his supporters headed towards Gota Go Gama, the seafront promenade site, where protesters have been calling the two Rajapaksa brothers as well as their extended family in parliament to quit corruption and step down. Eyewitnesses said that the police and security forces initially did not stop the mob from tearing down the tents and setting fire to an area set up in front of the presidential secretariat.

A National Hospital source in Colombo told Khaleej times that at least 200 people were admitted with injuries following the clashes in the afternoon.

The president’s media division announced that the all-island curfew imposed on Monday was extended until Wednesday. The country is also under a state of emergency, declared by the president since Friday night.


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