Police in Sri Lanka have arrested 45 after overnight violence as hundreds tried to storm president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s house in Colombo to protest the economic crisis. Security forces fired tear gas and water cannons – AFP said police fired into the crowd (it is unclear if live ammunition was used) – and troops with assault rifles were seen. At least 10 people have been injured. Police said five of their personnel were also injured in clashes that resulted in vehicles set on fire and overturned. A curfew was imposed late Thursday night covering large parts of the capital district but was lifted early this morning.
“As of now 45 people have been arrested. Five policemen were injured while a police bus, a jeep and two motorcycles were burnt. The protesters had also caused damage to a police water cannon truck,” a senior official told PTI.
READ: Ten injured in Sri Lanka protests, security forces ‘fire into crowd’
The capital city remains under a security blanket.
Rajapaksa, who reports said was not at home, has slammed ‘extremist forces’ for the violence and has accused them of trying to de-stabilise the country.
“The Thursday night protest was led by extremist forces calling for an Arab Spring to create instability in our country,” the president’s office said.
Videos shared on social media – and verified by AFP – showed people shouting ‘lunatic, lunatic go home’ and demanding the powerful Rajapaksa family – they hold the presidency, prime ministership, and key cabinet posts – step down.
On Thursday hundreds (some reports claimed thousands) of people gathered to protest the Rajapaksa government’s handling of the country’s finances, which has exacerbated Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange woes.
The country has $51 billion in foreign debts, of which $4 billion is due this year; this includes a $1 billion international sovereign bond due in July. Sri Lanka has only $2.31 billion in reserves and current debt is 119 per cent of GDP.
Explained: Sri Lanka economic crisis and India’s $2.5 billion line of credit
Inflation data on Friday showed levels in Colombo hit 18.7 percent in March, the sixth consecutive monthly record. Food prices soared a record 30.1 percent.
The crisis has triggered shortage of fuel, electricity, food, and other essential commodities – and a surge in prices for what is left. State-run hospitals have stopped conducting surgeries as they have run out of essential life-saving medicines. Schools have cancelled exams because of a lack of paper.
READ: Sri Lankan security forces deployed in Colombo after night of violence
Dulaj Madhushan, one of the protesters, asked: “How can people earn a living? This is not a political one, but a protest led by people. They took people for granted. Now you can see peoples’ power. “
President Rajapaksa defended his government, saying the crisis is not of its making and the downturn was driven by the pandemic that affected tourism.
The government has said it is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund while asking for more loans from India and China.
The Indian government has already provided two separate lines of credit – of $1 billion and $1.5 billion – as well as a shipment of diesel.
With input from AP, AFP, PTI, Reuters