Sri Lankan protesters defy curfew, stand ground after deadly violence

Sri Lankan protesters

Fresh protests have erupted in Sri Lanka, defying a curfew after five people — including a lawmaker from the ruling side — died in the worst violence in weeks of demonstrations over a dire economic crisis.

Demonstrators showed no sign they would back down on Tuesday, even after scores were injured when government supporters bussed into Colombo and attacked protesters with sticks and clubs a day before.

As outrage over the incident soared, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Monday. But even that failed to calm public anger, as his brother, Gotabaya, is still president with widespread powers.

Protesters swarmed the entrance to Gotabaya’s office in the capital city of Colombo for the 32nd day on Tuesday, demanding that he follow in his brother’s footsteps and quit.

Earlier, thousands of angry protesters stormed Mahinda’s official residence overnight. The former premier had to be rescued in a pre-dawn military operation, in which tear gas and warning shots were fired.

“At least 10 petrol bombs were thrown into the compound,” a top security official told AFP news agency.

Vigilante groups blocked the main road to Colombo’s airport and stopped all traffic to check for any Rajapaksa loyalists trying to leave, though Mahinda’s son said his father would not flee.

Tension simmers

With Mahinda’s resignation, the Cabinet was also dissolved, creating a vacuum. While the president has the most power under the constitution, a prime minister and Cabinet are needed to manage the government.

The Rajapaksa clan’s hold on power has been shaken by months of blackouts and shortages of essentials, the worst economic crisis since it became independent in 1948.

Monday’s attacks on protesters represented a turning point after weeks of peaceful demonstrations. Police and the local human rights commission said they have started separate investigations into the violence.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds and declared an immediate curfew in Colombo on Monday, a measure later widened to include the entire South Asian nation of 22 million people.

Authorities said the curfew will be lifted Wednesday morning, with government and private offices, as well as shops and schools, ordered shut on Tuesday.

Crowds set alight the homes of at least 41 pro-Rajapaksa politicians, while buses and trucks used by government loyalists were targeted.

Several Rajapaksa homes were torched in different parts of the country, while a family museum in their ancestral village was trashed including life-size wax figures of their parents.

“I am deeply troubled by the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka after supporters of the prime minister attacked peaceful protesters in Colombo…and the subsequent mob violence against members of the ruling party,” UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.


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