Sri Lanka. Army saves Prime Minister Rajapaksa as violent clashes leave eight dead



CNN

Outgoing Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was rescued in a pre-dawn military operation on Tuesday, hours after his resignation, as violent clashes between pro and anti-government protesters left several dead and hundreds injured.

The military were called to the prime minister’s “Temple Trees” compound after protesters attempted to enter his private residence twice overnight, a senior security source told CNN.

The attackers managed to “enter the outer perimeter” of the residence where they threw petrol bombs, but their attempts to enter the building were thwarted when the military fired tear gas, the source said.

A police officer involved in the clashes died at the scene when a tear gas gun exploded, the security official said, confirming that Prime Minister Rajapaksa, 76, and his family have since been taken to a held location secret.

Troops have also been ordered to shoot anyone damaging state property or assaulting public officials, the Defense Ministry said in a statement following an attack on the senior deputy inspector general of the police.

The scenes came after an evening of violent clashes in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Monday in which at least eight people died according to police, although it is unclear whether all of the deaths were directly linked to the demonstrations.

Some 217 people were also injured as a result of the clashes, local health authorities reported.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa resigned on Monday evening shortly after the imposition of a nationwide curfew. The curfew came after live television showed footage of government supporters, armed with batons, beating protesters at several locations in the capital, including Galle Face Green Park, and demolishing and burning their tents. Dozens of homes have been burned across the country amid the violence, according to witnesses CNN spoke to.

The park has become a focal point for protesters who have been demonstrating for weeks against the government’s alleged mishandling of an economic crisis that has caused soaring prices of daily consumer goods and widespread power shortages.

Riot police during protests in Colombo.

Armed troops were deployed, according to CNN’s team on the ground, while video footage showed police firing tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters.

“We are helpless now, we are begging for help,” Pasindu Senanayaka, an anti-government protester, told Reuters as black smoke billowed from a nearby burning tent and parts of the camp of protest were a mess.

Police also accused the protesters of violence, saying they attacked buses carrying local officials to Colombo for a meeting with the prime minister.

Following the chaotic scenes, the government instituted an island-wide curfew and, shortly thereafter, the prime minister resigned. “Several stakeholders have indicated that the best solution to the current crisis is the formation of a multiparty interim government,” he said.

Pro-government supporters hold the portrait of Prime Minister Rajapaksa during a protest outside his residence in Colombo.

“Therefore, I tendered my resignation so that the next steps can be taken in accordance with the Constitution.”

However, it remains unclear whether the curfew and his resignation will be enough to contain the increasingly volatile situation in the country of 22 million people.

Many protesters say their ultimate goal is to force President Gotabaya Rajapaksa – the prime minister’s brother – to resign, something he has so far shown no signs of doing.

The president condemned the violence in a Twitter post, but refrained from apportioning blame.

“(I) strongly condemn the acts of violence perpetrated by those who incite and participate, regardless of their political allegiances,” he wrote. “Violence will not solve the current problems.

He also urged citizens to “remain calm and end violence and acts of revenge against citizens, regardless of political affiliation.”

“Every effort will be made to restore political stability through consensus, within the constitutional mandate and to resolve the economic crisis,” President Rajapaksa said. tweeted.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said the use of violence by government supporters had triggered “a dangerous escalation, increasing the risk of further deadly violence and other abuses”.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, urged the government to “respect the right to peaceful protest.”

“It is vitally important that security forces fully respect the right to peaceful assembly and that those responsible for violence are held accountable,” Ganguly said.

The European Union (EU) said it “condemns the recent brutal attacks on peaceful protesters in Colombo” and “deplores the loss of life,” according to a statement released on Tuesday.

The bloc also called on the authorities to investigate the events in Sri Lanka in order to “hold accountable those who incite or perpetrate the violence”.

For weeks, Sri Lanka has struggled with its worst economic crisis since the island nation gained independence in 1948, leaving food, fuel, gas and medicine in short supply and sending the cost of commodities skyrocketing. base.

Government supporters and police clash outside the president's office in the Sri Lankan capital.

Shops across the country have been forced to close because they can’t run refrigerators, air conditioners or fans, and soldiers have been stationed at gas stations to calm customers, who have to queue for hours in the scorching heat to fill their tanks. Some people died while waiting.

Protesters in Colombo took to the streets for the first time in late March, demanding government action and accountability. The government was recently thrown into disarray when ministers resigned en masse.

Last Friday, President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency following skirmishes near the country’s parliament, but public anger continues to mount.

The Rajapaksa family dominated Sri Lankan politics for more than two decades. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation comes as several other family members who previously held cabinet positions were also forced to resign.

President Rajapaksa is the only member of the family still in power.

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