Sri Lanka deploys troops to capital after violence and protests


Police officers investigate the aftermath of clashes between government supporters and anti-government protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Defying a national curfew in Sri Lanka, several hundred protesters continued to chant slogans against the government on Tuesday, a day after violent clashes saw the resignation of the prime minister who is accused, along with his brother, the president, of having led the country into its worst economic crisis in decades. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)


Sri Lankan authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops to 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 suspected of taking part in the violence as sporadic acts of arson and vandalism have continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began on Monday evening.

Armored trucks with soldiers on board were seen driving through some areas of Colombo, where the government faces its biggest challenge in decades as the country plunges into economic crisis and protests.

Videos posted on social media showed lines of military trucks leaving the capital and soldiers setting up checkpoints across the country, fearing a political vacuum could pave the way for a military coup.

Senior Defense Ministry official Kamal Gunaratne denied allegations of a military coup, in a joint press conference with the country’s army and navy chiefs.

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

Gunaratne said the army will return to its barracks once the security situation normalizes.

Navy Commander Nishantha Ulugetenne said former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was protected at Trincomalee Naval Base on the northeast coast.

Nationwide protests have called for the resignation of Rajapaksa and his brother, who resigned as prime minister this week over a debt crisis that nearly bankrupted Sri Lanka and left his people facing shortages of fuel, food and other essentials.

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

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

The country reaffirmed its support for Sri Lanka on Tuesday, saying India had given $3.5 billion in support to help it overcome the crisis, along with essential items like food and medicine, it said. said the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.

On Monday, supporters gathered at the prime minister’s official residence to urge Mahinda Rajapaksa to stay in office. After the meeting, government-supporting crowds beat peaceful protesters who had camped near the prime minister’s residence and the president’s office to demand their resignation, as police watched and did nothing to stop them. Across the country, angry citizens responded by attacking government supporters and ruling party politicians.

Eight people, including a ruling party lawmaker and two police officers, were killed and 219 were injured in the violence, the defense ministry said. In addition, 104 buildings and 60 vehicles were set on fire.

Pro-government mobs were chased, beaten and stripped naked. Some who were pushed into a lake were not allowed to return to the ground for hours. As news spread of where the buses were taking supporters, people smashed them and set them on fire.

Overturned buses were still smoking in the capital, Colombo, as protests continued. Homes of government supporters were attacked and some businesses were burned down, although personal violence decreased.

The European Union has called on the authorities to open an investigation into the events and bring to justice those who incite or commit violence.

Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy after it said it was suspending payment of $7 billion in foreign loans it was due to repay this year out of the $25 billion due by 2026. Its total external debt is $51 billion. of dollars.

The shortage of foreign currency has led to lower imports and acute shortages of basic necessities, from food and cooking gas to fuel and medicine. Over the past few months people have been forced to queue for hours to buy the limited supplies and many have been returning with nothing.

Protesters blamed the alleged corruption and style of administration of the Rajapaksa brothers as the root cause of the economic crisis.

The Prime Minister’s resignation created an administrative void without a Cabinet, which automatically dissolved with the resignation.

The president is under pressure to appoint someone who could unite everyone as prime minister, hand over much of his power to parliament and step down.

The vacuum has also created fears of a military takeover, especially if the violence continues.

The US State Department has expressed “concern” over the military deployment in Sri Lanka.

“We are also watching closely, as I have said before, the deployment of troops, which is of concern to us,” spokesman Ned Price told a weekly press conference.

Lynn A. Saleh