Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has been forced to resign after a day of violence saw five people including a ruling party member of parliament dead, with reports emerging of people attacking properties linked to the ruling party across the island nation.
Shots were fired from inside the Sri Lankan prime minister’s official residence on Monday, as thousands of protesters breached the main gate and torched a parked truck, AFP reported.
Earlier in the day, legislator Amarakeerthi Athukorala from the ruling party shot two people – killing a 27-year-old man – after being surrounded by a mob in Nittambuwa, about 40km (25 miles) from Colombo, police said.
CCTV footage showed the MP and his security officer fleeing into a nearby building. They were later found dead.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the circumstances of their death.
Nearly 150 people were wounded on Monday after supporters of the government armed with sticks and clubs attacked peaceful protesters.
Angry mobs have stormed the houses and properties of Rajapaksa loyalists across the country despite the state of emergency and police curfew.
The house of Saman Lal Fernando, mayor in the Colombo suburb of Moratuwa, was set ablaze hours after he took eight busloads of municipal workers to express solidarity with the Rajapaksas.
The houses of ministers Johnston Fernando, Kanchana Wijesekara, and Prasanna Ranatunga and MPs Sanath Nishantha, Ramesh Pathirana and Nimal Lanzawere were also set on fire by angry people.
A tourist hotel owned by a close associate of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s children was also set ablaze, along with a Lamborghini car parked inside. There were no casualties among foreign guests, police said.
Mobs attacked the controversial Rajapaksa museum in the family’s ancestral village in the deep south of the island and razed it to the ground, police said. Two wax statues of the Rajapaksa parents were flattened.
Meanwhile, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, retired major general Kamal Gunaratne urged people to be calm.
A number of religious leaders also met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday night, urging him to take immediate steps to stabilize the country. They called for the appointment of a neutral prime minister.
Blackouts and dire shortages of food, fuel
Sri Lanka has suffered months of blackouts and dire shortages of food, fuel and medicines in its worst economic crisis since independence, sparking weeks of overwhelmingly peaceful anti-government demonstrations.
On Monday dozens of Rajapaksa loyalists attacked unarmed protesters camping outside the president’s office at the sea-front Galle Face promenade in downtown Colombo since April 9, AFP reporters said.
Rajapaksa had addressed some 3,000 supporters at his house and pledged he would “protect the interests of the nation”.
The supporters then initially pulled down tents of protesters in front of the prime minister’s Temple Trees residence and torched anti-government banners and placards.
They then marched to the nearby promenade and began destroying other tents set up by the “Gotta go home” campaign that demands the president step down.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon and declared an immediate curfew in Colombo which was later widened to include the entire South Asian island nation of 22 million people.
Tense situation at MynaGoGama protest site opposite Temple Trees. Peaceful protest attacked by a group – Reporter#lka #SriLanka #SLnews #News1st #ProtestLK #MynaGoGama #TempleTrees #Police pic.twitter.com/PmzgdHs76v
— Newsfirst.lk Sri Lanka (@NewsfirstSL) May 9, 2022
Officials said the army riot squad was called in to reinforce police. Soldiers have been deployed throughout the crisis to protect deliveries of fuel and other essentials but until now not to prevent clashes.
“Strongly condemn the violent acts taking place by those inciting & participating, independent of political allegiances. Violence won’t solve the current problems,” Rajapaksa tweeted.
Reporting from Colombo, Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez said thousands of Rajapaksa’s supporters were brought in buses from all over the country to converge at his official residence.
“Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed that group, saying he will do what is best for the public interest. But this group was a very belligerent group, they were spoiling for a fight,” she said.
“The violence unleashed by Rajapaksa’s supporters really started this day of violence.”
Footage of Government supporters assaulting protest at “GotaGoGama” pic.twitter.com/nAxkbQi1nX
— NewsWire 🇱🇰 (@NewsWireLK) May 9, 2022
The attack on protesters came a day after Rajapaksa was heckled during his first public outing since nationwide protests erupted. On Sunday, the first visited one of the holiest Buddhist temples – housing a tree said to be 2,300 years old – in Anuradhapura.
Dozens of people carried hand-written placards and chanted slogans demanding that “thieves” be banned from the sacred city, 200km (125 miles) north of Colombo.
— Kavinthan (@Kavinthans) May 9, 2022
‘Week of Protests’
Meanwhile, trade unions on Monday began a “Week of Protests” demanding the government change and its president step down, trade union activist Saman Rathnapriya said, adding that more than 1,000 unions representing health, ports, education, and other key service sectors have joined the movement.
At the end of the week, they will launch a huge march to parliament, demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s removal and a new government.
Nalaka Godahewa, a government spokesman, said on Monday that all cabinet members had also stepped down in the wake of Rajapaksa’s resignation.
“Now the president will invite other political parties to form a unity government,” he told Reuters.
The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans. It defaulted on its foreign debt of $51bn last month.
Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which surged to 18.7 percent in March.
As oil prices soar during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sri Lanka’s fuel stocks are running out. Authorities have announced massive countrywide power cuts.
Protesters have crowded the streets since March, maintaining that Rajapaksa and his family – who have dominated nearly every aspect of life in Sri Lanka for most of the last 20 years – are responsible for the crisis.
On Friday, Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency, drawing concerns from diplomats and rights groups.
Additional reporting by Rathindra Kuruwita from Colombo