Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns amid worst economic crisis
Colombo: Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Monday after clinging on to power for weeks, following unprecedented anti-government protests demanding his ouster as well as the administration led by his younger brother and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country's worst economic crisis that led to acute shortages of staple food, fuel and power.
Mahinda's resignation comes hours after his supporters attacked anti-government protesters outside President Gotabaya's office, leaving at least 154 people injured and prompting authorities to impose a nationwide curfew and deploy army troops in the national capital. At least two people, including a ruling party MP, were killed during violent clashes. Prime Minister Mahinda, 76, sent his resignation letter to President Gotabaya after violent scenes were witnessed in Colombo.
"Effective immediately I have tendered my resignation as Prime Minister to the President," Mahinda tweeted.
Mahinda in his resignation letter said that he is stepping down to pave the way for the All-Party Interim Government to be formed.
He said that he will be "ready to make any sacrifice even in the future in order to help the people and the government overcome the present crisis." The Cabinet was also dissolved with the resignation of the Prime Minister.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Mahinda's supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators at MynaGoGama and GotaGoGama protest sites. The tents opposite Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister, were dismantled by a mob.
Police used water cannons to disperse the unruly ruling party protestors. The police formed a human chain to prevent the protesters from entering GotaGoGama.
However, the mob pushed its way past the police human chain and attacked GotaGoGama. Around 154 people were injured in the violence.
Army troops were deployed to the protest sites to bring the situation under control. Curfew, which was initially declared in the national capital, was imposed islandwide with immediate effect until further notice, a police spokesperson said.
The defence secretary urged public support to maintain peace in the country, while three-armed forces have been called in to assist police for public security. Leave for all police personnel were cancelled until further notice.
However, the violence against anti-government protesters triggered widespread anger, with people turning their wrath on Rajapaksa supporters.
The vehicles carrying supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda were stopped and attacked in many parts of the country.
Amarakeerthi Athukorala, a Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MP from the Polonnaruwa district who was surrounded by anti-government groups at the north western town of Nittambuwa, opened fire on protesters. When the angry mobs toppled the car, he fled and took refuge in a building and committed suicide by pulling his own revolver. Later, the lawmaker and his personal security officer were found dead, the police said.
The offices of former minister Johnston Fernando were attacked by angry crowds in Kurunegala and Lillie Street here. A tavern owned by him was also set on fire.
The Negombo home of former minister Nimal Lanza was also attacked. The Moratuwa residence of Moratuwa Mayor Saman Lal Fernando was set on fire. The mob also attacked ruling party Trade Leader Mahinda Kahandagamage's residence in Vauxhall Street, Colombo. He was seen leading the attack on MynaGoGama and GotaGoGama protest sites earlier in the day.
Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948. The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.
Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9 seeking resignation of President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda, as the government ran out of money for vital imports; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and there are acute shortages in fuel, medicines and electricity supply.
Earlier, President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda appealed to the people to exercise restraint and remember that violence only begets violence, saying the economic crisis needs an economic solution which his government is committed to resolving.
"Strongly condemn the violent acts taking place by those inciting & participating, irrespective of political allegiances. Violence won't solve the current problems. I request all citizens to remain calm & exercise restraint. I urge everyone to work together in solving this crisis," the 72-year-old President said in a tweet. Mahinda also urged people to exercise restraint.
"While emotions are running high in #lka, I urge our general public to exercise restraint & remember that violence only begets violence. The economic crisis we're in needs an economic solution which this administration is committed to resolving," he tweeted.
Former PM Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attack on the peaceful demonstrators.
Mahinda, who was under intense pressure from within his own SLPP ranks to resign, had earlier gathered his supporters to apply counter pressure not to stand down. "I am so used to seeing protests and agitations, nothing would deter me. I am experienced enough to face any situation," he had said.
Opposition leader of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya Sajith Premadasa visited the GotaGoGama protest site to assess the situation.
The Opposition sources said a group had also attacked Premadasa and his colleagues as he arrived at the presidential secretariat protest site. It accused Mahinda of instigating his supporters.
The 'MainaGoGama' protest site was set up demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda. Peaceful protesters had been camped here for 31 days, demanding the resignation of the President.
Sri Lankan Airlines on Monday urged passengers to produce their air ticket and passport at checkpoints to reach Bandaranaike International Airport after authorities imposed curfew.
"In view of the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka, passengers departing Colombo can produce their air ticket and passport to the security personnel at checkpoints to reach BIA," SriLankan Airlines, the country's flag carrier, tweeted, assuring travellers, especially foreigners who visit the picturesque island nation.