Colombo: Sri Lankan authorities on Monday imposed a nationwide curfew and Army troops were deployed in the capital after pro-government groups attacked protesters outside embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office, leaving at least 78 people injured.
The violence occurred following reports that Mahinda Rajapaksa may offer to stand down as Prime Minister, as pressure mounted on the embattled government led by his younger brother and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to form an interim administration to overcome the worst economic crisis facing the country.
Curfew was imposed islandwide with immediate effect until further notice, a police spokesperson was quoted as saying by the local media.
A military contingent was deployed to the protest site to assist law enforcement after clashes between pro-government and protestors at MynaGoGama and GotaGoGama protest sites left 78 people injured.
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Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.
Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9 seeking resignation of President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda, as the government ran out of money for vital imports; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and there are acute shortages in fuel, medicines and electricity supply.
The Rajapaksa brothers – President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda – have so far defied calls for their resignation.
Meanwhile, President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda have appealed to the people to exercise restraint and remember that violence only begets violence, saying the economic crisis needs an economic solution which his government is committed to resolving.
“Strongly condemn the violent acts taking place by those inciting & participating, irrespective of political allegiances. Violence won’t solve the current problems. I request all citizens to remain calm & exercise restraint. I urge everyone to work together in solving this crisis,” the President said in a tweet.
The Prime Minister also urged the people to exercise restraint.
“While emotions are running high in #lka, I urge our general public to exercise restraint & remember that violence only begets violence. The economic crisis we’re in needs an economic solution which this administration is committed to resolving,” Mahinda tweeted.
Mahinda, 76, who is under intense pressure from within his own Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ranks to resign, was earlier gathering his supporters to apply counterpressure not to stand down.
“I am so used to seeing protests and agitations, nothing would deter me. I am experienced enough to face any situation,” Rajapaksa said.
A tense situation prevailed as a group of supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda attacked the protesters outside the ‘MainaGoGama’, a protest site near Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister, Daily Mirror, an online news platform, reported.
The tents opposite Temple Trees were dismantled by a mob, Lanka First, a leading news network, reported.
Police used water cannons to disperse the unruly SLPP protestors who are at the Galle Face green protest site, Hiru News website reported. At least 23 people were injured in the violence.
The police formed a human chain to prevent the protesters from entering GotaGoGama.
However, the mob pushed their way past the police human chain and attacked GotaGoGama.
Opposition leader of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya Sajith Premadasa visited the GotaGoGama protest site to assess the situation.
The Opposition sources said a group had also attacked Premadasa and his colleagues as he arrived at the presidential secretariat protest site.
It accused Mahinda Rajapaksa of instigating his supporters.
The ‘MainaGoGama’ protest site was set up demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Peaceful protesters had been camped here for 31 days, demanding the resignation of the president.
Hundreds of supporters of the Prime Minister have been brought in buses while some others marched to the Temple Trees to show support to the premier against the call for his resignation, the Colombo Page newspaper reported.
The demonstrators insisted that Rajapaksa remain in office and not resign.
In a special Cabinet meeting on Friday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency with effect from Friday midnight. This is the second time that an emergency was declared in Sri Lanka in just over a month as the island nation was in the grip of the worst economic crisis.