Sunday, 26 May, 2024

Sri Lanka imposes curfew after day of deadly unrest

Five people were killed and nearly 200 wounded as prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resignation which did little to calm public anger.

Soldiers stand guard beside the charred remains of a truck, a day after it was torched by protesters at the entrance of Sri Lanka's outgoing PM.
Soldiers stand guard beside the charred remains of a truck, a day after it was torched by protesters at the entrance of Sri Lanka’s outgoing PM. (AFP)

Sri Lanka has deployed thousands of troops and police to enforce a curfew after five people were killed in the worst violence in weeks of protests over an unprecedented economic crisis.

Prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned and had to be rescued in a pre-dawn operation by the military Tuesday after thousands of anti-government protesters stormed his official residence in Colombo overnight, with police firing tear gas and warning shots to keep back the crowd.

"After a pre-dawn operation, the former PM and his family were evacuated to safety by the army," a top security official said. "At least 10 petrol bombs were thrown into the compound."

The Rajapaksa clan's hold on power has been shaken by months of blackouts and shortages in Sri Lanka, the worst economic crisis since it became independent in 1948.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains in office, however, with widespread powers and command over the security forces.

READ MORE:Sri Lankan PM quits, lawmaker among several dead in violence

Anti-government protests

After weeks of overwhelmingly peaceful anti-government demonstrations, violence broke out Monday when Mahinda Rajapaksa's supporters — bussed into the capital from the countryside — attacked protestors with sticks and clubs.

"We were hit, the media were hit, women and children were hit," one witness told AFP, asking not to be named.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds and declared an immediate curfew in Colombo, a measure later widened to include the entire South Asian nation of 22 million people.

Shot dead

Despite the curfew, anti-government protesters defied police to retaliate against government supporters for the attacks late into Monday night.

Ruling party lawmaker Amarakeerthi Athukorala shot two people outside Colombo.

Police said Athukorala killed a 27-year-old man after being surrounded by a mob of anti-government protestors, then took his own life with his revolver.

Athukorala's bodyguard was also found dead at the scene, police said.
Another ruling party politician who was not named opened fire on protesters, killing two and wounding five in the deep south of the island, police added.

Angry crowds set alight the homes of more than a dozen pro-Rajapaksa politicians, along with some vehicles, while buses and trucks used by the government loyalists in and around Colombo were also targeted.

Several Rajapaksa homes were torched in different parts of the country, while a family museum in their ancestral village was trashed.

Doctors at the main Colombo National Hospital intervened to rescue wounded government supporters, with soldiers breaking open locked gates to ferry in the wounded.

"They may be murderers, but for us they are patients who must be treated first," a doctor shouted at a mob blocking the entrance to the emergency unit.

READ MORE:Pro-government supporters attack protesters in Sri Lanka

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