Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister has resigned to make way for a unity government that would try to find a way out of the country’s worst economic crisis in history, but protesters say they also want his brother to stand down as President
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation came hours after clashes broke out in Colombo, where supporters of the ruling party stormed an anti-government protest camp and were beaten back by police using tear gas and water cannon.
Video footage from local media showed the ancestral home of the Rajapaksa family ablaze in the southern city of Hambantota, while multiple attacks on houses and election offices of other politicians were also reported.
PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ancestral home in Madamulluna has been set on fire. pic.twitter.com/JAN52w5Gxw
— DailyMirror (@Dailymirror_SL) May 9, 2022
Ruling party member of parliament Amarakeerthi Athukorale and his bodyguard were killed in Nittambuwa, some 30 kilometres north of Colombo after the car they were travelling in was intercepted by an angry crowd, a police spokesman said.
Mr Athukorale or his bodyguard had fired gunshots at the protesters, who chased them and trapped them inside a building where their badly beaten bodies were recovered by police several hours later, the spokesman said.
Three people were hospitalised with gunshot wounds from the shots fired from the politician’s vehicle, he said.
A nationwide curfew has been imposed, on top of the state of emergency that Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa — the Prime Minister’s younger brother, referred to as Gota — declared last week in the face of escalating protests.
The island nation of 22 million people has suffered prolonged power cuts and shortages of essentials, including fuel, cooking gas and medicines.
Meanwhile, the government is left with as little as $US50 million of usable foreign reserves.
YOUTUBESri Lanka prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns, curfew imposed after clashes.
Sri Lankans have been taking to the streets in largely peaceful protests and demanding that the Rajapaksas step down.
Some celebrating Mahinda’s resignation
In his resignation letter, the Prime Minister said he was quitting to help form an interim, unity government.
“Multiple stakeholders have indicated the best solution to the present crisis is the formation of an interim, all-party government,” the letter said.
“Therefore, I have tendered my resignation so the next steps can be taken in accordance with the constitution.”
Nalaka Godahewa, a government spokesman, said all cabinet members had also stepped down.
“Now the President will invite other political parties to form a unity government,” he told Reuters.
“The President will meet with independent and opposition political parties and we expect a new government in the next few days.”
The US condemned the violence while also expressing concern about the emergency declaration, which it said can be used to curb dissent.
“We urge the government to work quickly to identify and implement solutions to achieve long-term economic stability and address the Sri Lankan people’s discontent over the worsening economic conditions including power, food and medicine shortages as well,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington.
On the streets of Colombo, the mood was jubilant but tense as cars — some flying the national flag and others sounding their horns — drove along a seaside promenade where clashes had broken out earlier.
Outside the Prime Minister’s residence, Osha De Silva was among the hundreds of protesters celebrating his resignation but said she also wanted the President to step down.
“The Rajapaksa regime is corrupt,” Ms Silva said, clasping a national flag with both hands.
‘Gota, go home’: Demands continue for President to step down
The Prime Minister’s departure came during a day of chaos and violence, with pro- and anti-government protesters clashing for the first time since the unprecedented wave of demonstrations took hold in late March.
Some protesters hijacked a bus used to ferry pro-government supporters, according to a Reuters witness, one of several such incidents reported in Colombo.
Media are reporting pro-government supporters have been attacked in at least four locations as they were returning from Colombo.
The houses of at least two mayors were also set on fire, police said.
Australian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka condemns violence against protesters. He’s joined other international governments like the US and Sweden in denouncing the state of emergency. Authorities have used tear gas and water cannons on protesters. https://t.co/ZjzPydY0Tg
— Avani Dias (@AvaniDias) May 9, 2022
Hundreds of ruling party supporters had rallied outside the Prime Minister’s official residence before marching to an anti-government protest site outside the presidential office.
Ahead of time, police had formed a line on the main road leading towards the site but did little to stop pro-government protesters from advancing, according to a Reuters witness.
Pro-government supporters, some armed with iron bars, attacked anti-government demonstrators at the “Gota, Go Gama” tent village that sprang up last month and became the focal point of nationwide protests.
Police used tear gas and water cannon to break up the confrontation.
At least nine people were taken to Colombo’s National Hospital for treatment relating to injuries or tear gas inhalation, a hospital official said, declining to be identified. Local media reported as many as 150 were injured throughout the day.
“Strongly condemn the violent acts taking place by those inciting and participating, irrespective of political allegiances,” President Rajapaksa said in a tweet. “Violence won’t solve the current problems.”
As dusk fell on Colombo, thousands defied a curfew to rally at Gota, Go Gama. “Gota[baya] go home,” the crowd chanted.