Lankan president accuses ‘extremists’ of protesting late at night, state media says

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Local television stations reported protests in various parts of Sri Lanka.

Dove:

Residents of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, suffering for weeks from a terrible economic crisis, erupted in protest late Thursday night. More than 5,000 people staged a protest march in the Lankan capital near the president’s house to demand his resignation and clashed with police. The paramilitary police unit, a special intervention force, had to be called in to quell the protests.

“45 people arrested (44 men and 1 woman) and 5 police officers injured including an ASP and treated in hospitals following the demonstration in Mirihana, Nugegoda last night. A police bus, 1 police jeep, 2 burned motorcycles and a truck damaged water cannon,” a police spokesman said.

The government said the protests were organized by an extremist group. “The majority of perpetrators have been arrested,” he added.

There has been a critical shortage of food and essential items, fuel and gas for weeks as the country grapples with the worst economic downturn since independence.

Diesel was no longer available on Thursday, leaving the country’s 22 million people under a 13-hour blackout and preventing transport from running on the roads. The blackout had a knock-on effect on public hospitals which had already halted surgeries due to drug shortages.

Electricity rationing hit mobile phone base stations and affected call quality. The Colombo Stock Exchange had to limit trading from half to two hours, and offices asked non-essential staff to stay home.

Streetlights were turned off to save electricity, Reuters news agency reported, citing a minister.

In the evening yesterday, people started converging on the road near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s house, demanding that he and his family “go home”.

The president’s older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is prime minister while the younger, Basil Rajapaksa, holds the finance portfolio. Elder brother Chamal Rajapaksa is Minister of Agriculture while nephew Namal Rajapaksa serves as Minister of Sports.

The unrest began when police tried to disperse protesters, who were waving posters and shouting slogans. The crowd threw bottles and stones at the police and the crowd could only be controlled with tear gas and water cannons.

Footage from the location showed the crowd circling two police officers on bicycles. Screams of the slogan were punctuated by sounds of breaking glass and crashing rocks. A police bus was set on fire.

Mr Rajapaksa was not at home during the protests, Agence France-Presse reported citing official sources.

Nandakumar, Colombo’s deputy inspector general, said the crowd was “not unruly”. “It’s okay…nothing to worry about,” he told NDTV. When asked how they planned to disperse the crowd, he replied, “We can’t tell them anything now.”

Since Wednesday, local television stations and NDTV have reported on protests breaking out in various parts of the country. In several towns, motorists blocked major roads.

The current crisis has its roots in the decision of the Lankan government to ban imports in March 2020. This decision was aimed at saving foreign currency for the government’s $51 billion debt. But that has led to widespread shortages of essential items and soaring prices.

The government said it was seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. He also sought loans from India and China.

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