Sri Lanka: military saves Prime Minister Rajapaksa as violent clashes cause seven deaths

The military was called to the Prime Minister’s “Temple Trees” complex after protesters attempted to breach 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 threatened when the military fired tear gas, according to the source.

A police officer involved in the clashes died at the scene when a tear gas cannon exploded, the security official said, confirming that Prime Minister Rajapaksa and his family were taken to an unknown location.

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

As a result of the clashes, 217 people were also injured, local health authorities said.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Monday evening shortly after a nationwide curfew was imposed. The curfew came after live television showed footage of government supporters, armed with sticks, beating protesters in several locations in the capital, including at Galle Face Green, and knocking down and burning their tents. Dozens of homes have been set on fire across the country amidst 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 alleged mismanagement by the government of a economic crisis which caused soaring prices for everyday goods and widespread electricity shortages.

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

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

Riot police participate in the protest in Colombo.

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

After the chaotic scenes, the government imposed a curfew throughout the island and soon after the Prime Minister, 76, resigned. “Several stakeholders have indicated that the best solution to the current crisis is the formation of an interim government of all parties,” he said.

“Therefore, I have resigned so that the next steps can be taken in accordance with the Constitution.”

It is not clear, however, whether the curfew and his resignation will be enough to curb the increasingly unstable situation in the country of 22 million.

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

The president condemned the violence in a Twitter post, but stopped before sharing the blame.

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

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

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

“It is vital that the security forces fully respect the right to peacefully assemble and that those responsible for the violence are held accountable,” Ganguly said.

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For weeks, Sri Lanka has been battling its worst economic crisis since the island nation gained independence in 1948, leaving scarce supplies of food, fuel, gas and medicine and skyrocketing the cost of basic necessities.

Shops in 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 blistering heat to fill their tanks. . Some people have died in anticipation.

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

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

The Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for over two decades. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation comes as many other family members who previously held cabinet-level positions were also forced to resign.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the only family member left in power.