Thugs owing allegiance to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) attacked protesters in front of the Prime Minister’s residence and at Galle Face, opposite the Presidential Secretariat, leading to pitched battles and the destruction of protest sites in Colombo.
The Sri Lankan Police declared a curfew in Colombo (later extended to the entire island) and the Army moved into Galle Face, where a large number of protesters have been camping for over a month, as the Sri Lankan government flexed its muscles against the agitating people of the country. Thousands of citizens across the country have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and all the Rajapakasas, including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Two incidents precipitated the move. One, on a visit to the holy town of Anuradhapura on May 8, Mahinda Rajapaksa was heckled as he was leaving, a first for the most popular face of the Rajapaksa clan; and second, Sajith Premadasa, Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan Parliament, was attacked by the protesters when he went to Galle Face to meet them after a police action on May 9. Earlier today, United National Party chief Ranil Wickremesinghe had stated that he would withdraw from all attempts to find a solution to the current impasse if the protesters at Galle Face were attacked.
Setting the stage
The presence of a large number of Rajapaksa supporters from the deep south set the stage for the heckling and beating up of anti-government agitators today in front of Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister. Soon after the attack, Namal Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son, a Member of Parliament and a Minister, asked “everyone to stay calm!” Several videos that emerged from the Temple Trees location showed supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa beating up the protesters.
Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted at 1.57 p.m.: “While emotions are running high in Sri Lanka, I urge our general public to exercise restraint & remember that violence only begets violence. The economic crisis we are in needs an economic solution which this administration is committed to resolving.”
That tweet evoked the following response from lawyer N.K. Ashokbharan: “It is your ‘supporters’, goons and thugs who came to see you in Temple Trees that attacked peaceful protesters of #MynaGoGama and marched towards #GotaGoGama and attacked peaceful protesters there. You are responsible for this violence Mahinda.”
A shocked Sanath Jayasuriya, former Sri Lankan cricket team captain, said: “I never thought that this type of thuggery will be unleashed on innocent protesters at Galle face in broad daylight and outside Temple Trees. The police must remember that they are here to protect the public of this country and not corrupt politicians. This is the end of the Rajapaksas.”
A short while later, Gotabaya Rajapaksa too joined his brother in condemning the violence: “Violence won’t solve the current problems.” He wanted all citizens to remain calm and “work together in solving this crisis”.
With the attack on the protesters, the battle to get the Rajapaksas out of office has taken a decisive turn. For the Rajapaksas, this means that there is no going back from here and the strategy to of using brute force to cut down those who protest like the Sri Lankan state did with the Tamils and earlier with the JVP pretty much writes itself. For the protesters, it is a time to decide if they want to be picked up by white vans and summarily executed or stay out of “trouble”. For the police and the military, it is time to pick a side. A lot depends on what the politically ambitious Army Commander Shavendra Silva will decide.