Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) – Sri Lankan protesters lit flames on Wednesday and prayed in memory of thousands of people – including ethnic Tamil citizens – killed in the final stages of the country’s decades-long civil war, in the first incident where Monuments were erected mostly by ethnic Sinhalese, an openly minority group.
Protesters gathered outside the presidential office and showered flowers in the nearby sea and prayed for all those killed in the 26-year civil war, including Tamil civilians, Tamil rebels and government soldiers.
While grand state events have been held almost every year to remember and celebrate soldiers since the end of the war in 2009, this is the first time an event also remembers Tamils, who live in the country’s capital Colombo. being conducted mostly by Sinhalese.
“I am Sinhalese by birth. Today we organized a memorial for all those who died 13 years ago, all as a result of state terrorism and terrorism by Sinhalese, Muslim, Hindu and non-state groups,” Sumira Gunasekara , a social media activist who participated in the event said.
“There are still people who are sad because of these events and as a Sinhalese I have a right to share in their grief, because I believe in the religion of humanity more than any other religion.”
Actress Kaushalya Fernando said that she remembered the victims of war perpetrated and mismanaged by politicians.
“The importance of this place is that we are here not as different ethnic groups but as Sri Lankans.”
The protesters also shared rice porridge, the only food people had in the final stages of the fighting due to the heavy blockade of supplies.
Tamil Tiger rebels fought to create an independent state for the ethnic minority Tamils.
According to conservative UN estimates, 100,000 people died in the civil war. The actual number is believed to be much higher than this. A report by a panel of UN experts said that at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of fighting alone.
Since Sri Lankan troops defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, Sri Lankan authorities have widely banned Tamils from publicly remembering their family members and have denied allegations that Tamil civilians were killed.,
Sinhalese, mostly Buddhist, make up about 75% of Sri Lanka’s 22 million people. Tamils, mostly Hindus, make up 15%.
There have been protests for more than a month demanding the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, blamed for the country’s worst economic crisis in recent memory.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a key role as a top defense strategist for his brother, former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is credited with leading a military campaign to defeat the rebels.
Sinhalese revered both leaders as heroes, but they were decimated by allegations of mishandling the economy and corruption.,
Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns as Prime Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been living in his fortified residence for more than a month amid violent protests last week. He has been forced to take a back seat to appoint a new prime minister. to handle the economy.
Nearing bankruptcy, Sri Lanka has suspended foreign debt payments of up to $7 billion to be repaid this year due to the foreign exchange crisis. The country will have to repay $25 billion in foreign debt by 2026 out of a total of $51 billion.
This has led to limited imports without gasoline in filling stations. Other fuels, cooking gas, medicine and food items are in short supply, forcing people to stand in long lines to buy limited stocks.