10 May 2022

Sri Lanka anti-government protests continue despite curfew

10 May 2022

A few hundred protesters defied a nationwide curfew to continue to shout slogans against the Sri Lankan government – a day after violent clashes saw the prime minister resign.

Mahinda Rajapaksa stood down after being blamed alongside his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President, for leading the country to its worst economic crisis in decades.

Protesters swarmed the entrance to the President’s office in the capital, Colombo, for a 32nd day to demand he follow in his sibling’s footsteps.

The site outside Mr Rajapaksa’s office has seen sustained crowds of thousands for weeks, though that number dropped on Tuesday to a few hundred due to the strict curfew, which followed deadly clashes the day before.

Local television visuals showed anti-government protesters shouting slogans for the president to resign and also rebuilding tents damaged in Monday’s attack.

A Sri Lankan man walks past burnt vehicles a day after clashes between government supporters and anti-government protesters (Eranga Jayawardena/AP) (AP)

The prime minister’s resignation came after violence erupted in front of the Rajapaksas’ offices as his supporters hit protesters with wooden and iron poles.

Authorities swiftly deployed armed troops to many parts of the country and imposed the curfew until Wednesday.

The ambush by the supporters triggered immediate anger and chaos as people started attacking ruling party politicians.

More than a dozen houses belonging to ruling party leaders were vandalised and set on fire.

At least four people, including a ruling party politician, were killed and nearly 200 were hurt by Monday night.

The South Asian island nation has been seething for more than a month as protests have spread from the capital to the countryside.

An anti-government protestor, left, is roughed up by Sri Lankan government supporters (Eranga Jayawardena/AP) (AP)

It has drawn people from across ethnicities, religions and classes and has even seen a marked revolt from some Rajapaksa supporters, many of whom have spent weeks calling for the two brothers to quit.

The pressure on President Rajapaksa to quit mounts following his brother’s resignation, analysts say, and comes as the country’s economy has dramatically fallen apart in recent weeks.

Imports of everything from milk to fuel have plunged, spawning dire food shortages and rolling power cuts.

People have been forced to queue for hours to buy essentials.

Doctors have warned of crippling shortages of life-saving drugs in hospitals, and the government has suspended payments on £5.6 billion in foreign debt due this year alone.

Though there are global factors – like the pandemic battering the country’s tourism industry and the Russia-Ukraine war pushing up global oil prices – both the President and prime minister have since admitted to mistakes that exacerbated the crisis, including conceding they should have sought an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bail-out sooner.

In March, after citizens had been enduring critical shortages of fuel, cooking gas and medicine for months already, the President reached out to the IMF.

Talks to set up a rescue plan are being held, with progress dependent on negotiations on debt restructuring with creditors.

But any long-term plan would take at least six months to get underway.

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