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SRI LANKA

Sri Lankan politicians of the ruling party go into hiding as people direct their anger at them

Published : May 10, 2022 21:02 IST T+T-
The house of Minister Sanath Nishantha was set on fire by protesters, in Arachchikattuwa, Sri Lanka, on May 9.

The house of Minister Sanath Nishantha was set on fire by protesters, in Arachchikattuwa, Sri Lanka, on May 9.

The protesters have made it clear that they will not withdraw their agitation until President Gotabaya Rajapaksa steps down.

Ruling party politicians hid themselves in various parts of the country even as mobs looked for them on the evening of May 9. The protesters set fire to properties and destroyed cars and other luxury items belonging to politicians. But most of Sri Lanka, including the capital Colombo, was calm but tense on May 10.

More than 300 people were injured and at least 10 killed, including a Member of Parliament, when the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) supporters attacked the protesters yesterday. The ill-trained and ill-equipped police force had abandoned their posts and the entire city of Colombo did not have any patrolling or police checkpoints. The military had to be called in to enforce a curfew that was declared by the police.

The protesters have made it clear that they will not withdraw their agitation until President Gotabaya Rajapaksa steps down. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned and the Cabinet has been dissolved, but this was not enough for those demanding that the entire Rajapaksa clan give up power. As on May 10, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not said anything about resigning as President.

The protesters were infuriated by the May 9 attack by the supporters of the ruling SLPP at Galle Face and elsewhere. From the evening of May 9 to the morning of May 10, the ire of the protesters was directed at the SLPP office bearers and Members of Parliament, some of whom led the attack on the protesters in front of Temple Trees, the Prime Minister’s residence, and at Galle Face in Colombo.

They believed that former Minister Johnston Fernando was among those who pushed Mahinda Rajapaksa to hang on to power. Naturally, his personal office, home and the SLPP office in Kurunegala were set on fire by a group of people.

Prasanna Ranatunga, Public Security Minister, who was identified as one those who had brought in people for the SLPP meeting in Colombo, was not spared. His house in Udugampola, Gampaha, was destroyed after it was set on fire. Sanath Nishantha, M.P., who brought supporters to Colombo on the day of the attack, watched from afar as his home in Arachchikattuwa went up in flames. Galle politicians Ramesh Pathirana and Mohan de Silva could not save their homes, though both have hundreds of supporters in the port town.

Former Ministers Keheliya Rambukwella in Kandy; Maheepala Herath in Kegalle; Bandula Gunawardena in Nugegoda; Wimal Weerawansa; Shehan Semasinghe in Anuradhapura; Kanaka Herath in Kegalle; Alawwa-based Shantha Bandara, who accepted a Ministry after he resigned from Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Cabinet—all watched on television as their homes were attacked and laid to waste.

People took a cue from the first attacks and there was a crowd in front of all the homes of Ministers and MPs across the island. One eyewitness said the protesters set fire to their homes if they could enter them and threw Molotov cocktails at a few other places.

The protesters found instances of criminals and members of the hardline Sinhala chauvinist Frontline Socialist Party beating up members of the citizens’ agitation. In one video, a group of people who were captured by the protesters claimed that they were from the Wataraka prison. One of them said: “We were in Wataraka prison for two years on a rehabilitation programme…. We were brought by jailer Ramanayake.”

A Deputy Inspector General of police in charge of the Western Province who was seen with the SLPP thugs on May 9 was also manhandled today. DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon, who was spotted near Gangarama temple driving his pick-up truck, was stopped and assaulted. The police fired at the protesters in a bid to get them to back off. The DIG was injured in the assault.

Indian reaction

In New Delhi, the official spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs made the following remarks today in response to media queries on developments in Sri Lanka: “As a close neighbour of Sri Lanka, with historical ties, India is fully supportive of its [Sri Lanka’s] democracy, stability and economic recovery. In keeping with our Neighbourhood First policy, India has extended this year alone support worth over US$ 3.5 billion to the people of Sri Lanka for helping them overcome their current difficulties. In addition, the people of India have provided assistance for mitigating the shortages of essential items such as food, medicine etc. India will always be guided by the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka expressed through democratic processes.”