What’s going on in Sri Lanka? This South Asian island of 22 million inhabitants has been plagued by violent clashes and cascading resignations for several weeks. In question: the territory is facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 vis-à-vis the United Kingdom, suffering from shortages of essential goods, long daily power cuts and record inflation. Crises, accentuated by the Islamist attacks of Easter in 2019, then the Covid-19 pandemic, which dried up the reserves of foreign currencies provided by income from tourism and remittances from the diaspora.
In the aftermath of the most deadly day in recent weeks which led to his resignation, the former Prime Minister was placed this Tuesday, May 10 in safety in a place which was not disclosed. After breaking through the main gate of his residence in Colombo, the demonstrators had tried to storm the main two-storey building where the brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had taken refuge with his family. “At least 10 incendiary bombs were thrown into the complex” said the senior security official, as evidenced by the many videos posted on social networks.
House of just-resigned PM of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa burnt down. Houses of many MPs also have been burnt down. pic.twitter.com/oq10kRoiEj
— Sidhant Sibal (@sidhant) May 9, 2022
Clashes between supporters of the former Prime Minister and anti-government demonstrators have left five people dead, including a deputy, and nearly 200 injured since the start of the week. Sri Lankan protesters and religious leaders blame the former prime minister for inciting family clan supporters to attack peaceful anti-government protesters, prompting reprisals. Dozens of homes belonging to Rajapaksa supporters were burned elsewhere in the country, subject to a curfew. Thousands of soldiers and police have therefore been deployed in the country to ensure compliance.
State of emergency declared
On Monday, in Nittambuwa, about 50 kilometers north of the capital, a ruling party MP, Amarakeerthi Athukorala, killed himself after opening fire on two anti-government protesters who were blocking his car. One of the two victims, aged 27, has since succumbed to his injuries, and the MP’s bodyguard has been found dead. Two other people were killed in the town of Weeraketiya (south), by a member of the ruling party shooting at protesters.
On Friday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency for the second time in five weeks, granting broad powers to security forces, including authorizing them to arrest suspects and detain them for long periods without judicial supervision. . It also authorizes the deployment of soldiers to maintain order, in support of the police.
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President Rajapaksa remains in office, enjoying sweeping powers and command of the security forces. Even with a coalition government, the president will be able to appoint and remove ministers as well as judges, and enjoy immunity. “If President Rajapaksa does not step down, no one, whether the crowds in the streets or the main political actors, will be appeased”, analyst Michael Kugelman of the US think tank Wilson Center told AFP. Apart from the abandonment of the former prime minister in early April, the governor of the country’s central bank and the finance minister have also left their posts.