Sri Lanka Deploys Troops in Capital After Protests
SThe ri Lankan authorities put armored vehicles, troops and tanks in the streets. It happened on Wednesday after violent protesters were attacked by pro-government mobs.
As sporadic vandalism and arson continued, security forces were ordered to fire on those involved in violence. The nationwide curfew was lifted Monday night.
The protestors against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa have called for the resignations his brother and vice-president. They are angry about a crisis in Sri Lanka’s finances that nearly led to its bankruptcy and has left it with severe food, fuel and other necessities shortages. Eight people were killed and over 200 injured by violent mob attacks that set fire to vehicles and buildings.
Some parts of Colombo saw armored trucks with soldiers on the top rolling into areas. Defying the curfew, some protesters regrouped opposite the president’s office to continue demonstrations that began over three weeks ago. Over loudspeakers, police announced that public areas are not allowed to be occupied during curfew.
Social media posts showed lines of military trucks leaving the capital and soldiers on motorbikes setting up checkpoints throughout the country. This was amid concerns that the political vacuum might open the door to a military coup.
The Defense Ministry’s top official, Kamal Gunaratne, denied speculation of a military takeover at a news conference held with the country’s army and navy chiefs.
“None of our officers has a desire to take over the government. It has never happened in our country and it is not easy to do it here,” Gunaratne said. President Rajapaksa is a former top army officer and remains the country’s official defense minister.
Gunaratne indicated that once security is restored, the army will be able to return its barracks.
The U.S. State Department was concerned about the deployment of military personnel.
Spokesman Ned Price said it was “closely monitoring the deployment of troops, something that is of concern to us.”
The prime minister’s departure has created an administrative vacuum with no Cabinet, which dissolved automatically with his resignation.
Nishantha Ulugetenne, a Navy Commander, said that Mahinda Rajapaksa is currently being guarded at Trincomalee, a Naval Base on the northeastern Coast.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation led to thousands of protesters breaking into his colonial-era home, forcing him and his family out.
The Indian Embassy denied social media speculation that “certain political persons and their families have fled to India,” and also rejected speculation that India was sending troops to Sri Lanka.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs affirmed its support for Sri Lanka on Tuesday, saying it had extended $3.5 billion to help overcome the economic crisis and had sent essential items such as food and medicine.
On Monday, supporters gathered at the prime minister’s official residence to urge Mahinda Rajapaksa to stay in office. After the meeting, mobs backing the government beat peaceful protesters who had camped out near the prime minister’s residence and president’s office demanding their resignations, as police watched and did little to stop them. An angry nation responded to the attack by attacking ruling party politicians and supporters of government.
According to the defense ministry, eight people were killed in violence including two officers from the police force and a lawmaker of the ruling party. 219 others were also injured. Additionaly, 60 vehicles and 104 buildings were also set on fire.
Pro-government mobs were chased down, beat and taken away. People set fire to buses carrying government supporters after hearing about them. Some businesses and homes of supporters of the government were also attacked.
European Union urged authorities to investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice.
Sri Lanka, which is close to bankruptcy, has stopped payments on foreign loans of $7 billion this year. The $25 billion due by 2020 will be paid in 2026. Sri Lanka’s total international debt amounts to $51 Billion.
A shortage of foreign currencies has caused falling imports as well as acute shortages in essentials such food, fuel, and medicines. People have had to wait in line for hours just to purchase the few stocks. Many people return empty handed.
Protesters blame the Rajapaksa brothers’ alleged corruption and style of administration for the economic crisis.
Sri Lanka is in talks with the International Monetary Fund to develop a rescue plan.
Wednesday’s Central Bank call for the President and Parliament to immediately restore political stability. The Central Bank warned the economy that further economic collapse could be imminent.
“Even for us to make progress on debt restructuring, we need a stable kind of a government. A Cabinet, a Parliament, a prime minister, a finance minister are all needed,” Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said.
“Without that kind of an administration, it is very difficult for us to make any progress.”
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