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Friday, October 07, 2022

Sri Lankan army deployed in capital amid anti-government protests

Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) — Sri Lankan authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops on the streets of the capital on Wednesday, two days after pro-government mobs attacked peaceful protesters, sparking a wave of violence across the country.

Security forces have been ordered to shoot those who took part in the violence, as sporadic acts of arson and sabotage continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began on Monday evening.

Read more: 1 killed, 10 injured in Sri Lankan police firing in protest

Anti-government protesters are calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, who stepped down as prime minister this week, over a debt crisis that has nearly bankrupted Sri Lanka and left its people with fuel, food and supplies. There was a severe shortage of other essentials. , Eight people have been killed and over 200 injured in violent attacks in the past few days, in which mobs torched buildings and vehicles.

Armored trucks with soldiers on top rolled down some areas of Colombo. Defying the curfew, some protesters regrouped in front of the presidential office to continue the demonstrations that began three weeks ago. The police announced through loudspeakers that it is illegal to stay in public places during the curfew.

Videos posted on social media show lines of military trucks marching out of the capital, accompanied by soldiers on motorbikes, and checkpoints setting up across the country amid fears that a political vacuum could pave the way for a military takeover. could.

In a press conference held with the country’s army and navy chiefs, top Defense Ministry official Kamal Gunaratne rubbished speculations of a military takeover.

“None of our officers have the aspiration to take over the government. This has never happened in our country and it is not easy to do it here,” Gunaratne said. President Rajapaksa is a former top army officer and remains the country’s official defense minister.

Gunaratne said the army would return to its barracks once the security situation returned to normal.

The US State Department expressed concern over the military deployment.

Spokesman Ned Price said he is “closely monitoring the deployment of troops, which is of concern to us.”

The departure of the Prime Minister has created an administrative vacuum with no cabinet, which automatically dissolved with his resignation.

Naval Commander Nishant Ulugetan said former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is being protected at a naval base in Trincomalee on the northeast coast.

After Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, he and his family were evicted from his official residence through thousands of protesters who were trying to break into the heavily guarded colonial-era building.

The Indian embassy denied social media speculation that “some political figures and their families have fled to India,” and also dismissed speculation that India was sending troops to Sri Lanka.

India’s foreign ministry on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for Sri Lanka, saying it had extended $3.5 billion to help it tide over the economic crisis and send essential items such as food and medicine.

Supporters gathered at the prime minister’s official residence on Monday to urge Mahinda Rajapaksa to continue in office. After the meeting, a mob supporting the government beat up peaceful protesters who were demanding their resignations near the prime minister’s residence and the presidential office, as police watched and did nothing to stop them. Across the country, angry citizens responded by attacking government supporters and ruling party politicians.

The Defense Ministry said eight people, including a ruling party legislator and two police officers, were killed and 219 were injured in the violence. In addition, 104 buildings and 60 vehicles were burnt.

The pro-government mob was chased, beaten up and stripped. As soon as news spread that the buses were carrying government supporters, people beat them up and set them on fire. Government supporters’ homes were attacked and some businesses were set on fire.

Read more: Sri Lankan President declares emergency ahead of fresh protests

The European Union called on the authorities to launch an investigation into the incidents and hold accountable those who instigated and perpetrated the violence.

Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy and has suspended the payment of $7 billion of foreign debt this year out of $25 billion due by 2026. Its total external debt is $51 billion.

The lack of foreign exchange has led to a fall in imports and a severe shortage of essential commodities including food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine. For months, people have been forced to stand in long lines for hours to buy limited stocks, with many returning with nothing.

The protesters blamed the alleged corruption and style of administration of the Rajapaksa brothers for the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka has started talks with the International Monetary Fund on a rescue plan and is starting talks with creditors on debt restructuring.

The central bank on Wednesday urged the president and parliament to quickly restore political stability, warning the economy was at risk of further collapse within days.

“Even as for us to make progress on debt restructuring, we need a stable kind of government. One cabinet, one parliament, one prime minister, one finance minister is all that is needed,” said central bank governor Nandlal Veerasinghe.

“Without that kind of administration, it is very difficult for us to make any progress.”

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