After a day of unrest, security forces in Sri Lanka were ordered on Tuesday to fire sharp ammunition at looters and rioters. Tens of thousands of police and military personnel were stationed in the capital Colombo. Anti-government protesters formed roadblocks on the way to the airport to prevent politicians from leaving the island state.
The battle shows how the smoldering crisis on the island in 48 hours took a dramatic turn. Demonstrations against Rajapaksas have been going on in Sri Lanka for weeks: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, have, according to opponents, caused the severe economic crisis facing Sri Lanka. Since the beginning of this year, fuel has become more expensive and scarce, food is limited and electricity is faltering.
The largely peaceful ongoing protest on Monday was met with aggressive counter-action from government supporters. In Colombo, they attacked protesters on Galle Face Green arterial road, after which police used tear gas and water cannons. Violent clashes between the two camps and security forces followed, leaving more than 200 wounded and eight dead, authorities said. The protest site in the center of the capital was brutally dismantled.
In the chaos, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced her resignation. It was later speculated that he had called on his supporters to provoke violence among protesters. The National Commission on Human Rights has announced an inquiry into the outbreak of violence.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not publicly comment on his brother’s decision on Monday. On Twitter did he condemn the violence?† Later in the day, a curfew was announced, which lasts until Wednesday afternoon.
The Rajapaksa were not spared the violence. The Prime Minister’s residence in Colombo was set on fire Monday night; Mahinda was removed from the property by the military at night. There were also fires in other family homes on the island, including the two brothers’ birthplace in Hambantota. The former prime minister was “in a safe place” on Tuesday, his son Namal Rajakapsa told AFP. He called the anger unjustified and added that the political family did not intend to leave Sri Lanka.
Will ‘Gota’ then remain president? So far, he has not given any signs of leaving. However, it is now unclear what option he has. He has acquired far-reaching executive power and can even appoint or dismiss ministers and judges. His brother wanted to make room for a coalition government with his resignation, but on Tuesday the opposition parties announced that the enthusiasm for this had disappeared after the violence.
Interestingly, already over the weekend there were rumors of pressure that Gotabaya would have exerted on his brother to leave. This while the brothers and their influential and controversial family usually function as a permanent entity. The fire in the Rajapaksa homes was seen as symbolic. For the critics, it is not enough to leave one brother.
Also social complaints
The president was elected in 2019. His brother had previously been president between 2005 and 2015. Both have a history of the Sri Lankan civil war, which ended in 2009. They are mainly supported by Sinhalese, the largest ethnic group in the population of 22 million. Gotabaya, which held an important position in the defense during the end of the civil war, has been linked to serious crimes against the Tamils, the disadvantaged minority group.
In the northern and eastern part of Sri Lanka, where the majority of Tamils live, the initial protests against Rajapaksas were initially subcooled. “Now that it hits their own pockets, people in the South are taking action. It was felt that solidarity with human rights issues was lacking, “an activist from the advocacy organization PEARL Action said earlier. NRC together.
But these social complaints had spread to more affluent Colombo, where posters of missing Tamil celebrities were carried in protest marches. A few weeks ago, participants at Galle Face Green described the economic crisis as a settlement: “There was mutual friction, but now everyone is dealing with this particular problem,” said an Islamic fruit seller. There has also been criticism of Gotabaya’s enforcement of a strict anti-terrorism law that often selectively targets minorities, such as Muslims.
In any case, the head of government – possibly a temporary leader appointed by parliament – must fight the economic crisis. Sri Lanka has huge debt and almost no foreign currency. It has approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It will require cuts in national spending, economists estimate. Sri Lankans are likely to face some unpopular measures, such as raising taxes.