Security forces were deployed in the Sri Lankan capital today, Friday, a day after hundreds of angry protesters attempted to storm the home of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to protest his government’s handling of the unprecedented economic crisis in the country for seven decades.
The South Asian country of 22 million people is facing severe shortages of basic commodities and soaring prices, compounded by massive debts.
Police in Colombo said 45 people had been arrested following the disturbances on Thursday night, in which a man was seriously injured.
While the curfew that was imposed at night was lifted early Friday morning, the deployment of the army and police was reinforced across the city as the charred structure of a bus still blocked the road to the president’s house.
The president’s office said – today, Friday – that the demonstrators wanted to create an “Arab Spring”, in reference to the demonstrations that swept countries in the Middle East in protest of corruption and economic hardship for more than a decade.
Hundreds of demonstrators, after calls spread on social media, marched towards Rajapaksa’s house to demand his resignation, and set fire to two army buses and a police car in the residential Miriana neighborhood where the president’s home is. They also demolished a nearby wall and used stones to throw police and army personnel.
The security forces opened fire to disperse the crowds, but it was not immediately clear if they used live bullets or rubber bullets. They also used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.
President Mahinda’s older brother is the prime minister, while the younger, Basil, holds the money portfolio. His older brother Shamal is the Minister of Agriculture and his nephew Namal is the Minister of Sports.
The government admitted that the current crisis is the worst since the country’s independence in 1948. In recent years, the country, which emerged from decades of civil war in 2009, has been hit by a series of disasters and painful events.
Agriculture suffered a catastrophic drought in 2016, and militant attacks on tourism on an Easter Sunday in 2019 killed at least 279 people, then the “Covid-19” pandemic dried up remittances sent by Sri Lankans working abroad.
Because of the severe shortage of foreign currency, the island has become unable to import vital goods, so long queues have formed in front of gas stations, and many medicines are no longer available in pharmacies, while many people spend the night by candlelight because of the power outage.