Sri Lanka MP among five killed as violence escalates

People set properties linked to the ruling party on fire across the island amid attacks by government supporters.

A woman loyal to Rajapaksa carries his portrait during protests outside his official residence
Mahinda Rajapaksa has stepped down after weeks of protests, His family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for nearly 20 years [Ishara S Kodikara/AFP]

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 a 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.

Three men attack a man and drag him along the ground
Supporters of Sri Lanka’s ruling party attack an anti-government demonstrator in Colombo [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

The houses of three ministers and three MPs were also torched.

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 island’s south 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 – Mahinda’s brother – on Monday night, urging him to take immediate steps to stabilise 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 mostly peaceful anti-government demonstrations.

But on Monday dozens of Rajapaksa loyalists attacked unarmed protesters who have been camping on the sea-front Galle Face promenade in the centre of Colombo for a month.

Rajapaksa had addressed some 3,000 supporters at his house and pledged he would “protect the interests of the nation”.

The supporters pulled down tents protesters had pitched 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 demanding the president’s resignation.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon and declared an immediate curfew in Colombo which was later widened to include the entire country of 22 million people.

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, irrespective 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.”

The attack on protesters came a day after Rajapaksa was heckled during his first public outing since nationwide protests erupted.

On Sunday, the prime minister had 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.

‘Week of Protests’

Meanwhile, trade unions on Monday began a “Week of Protests” demanding the government change and the 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.

Nalaka Godahewa, a government spokesman, said on Monday that all cabinet members had also stepped down in the wake of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation.

“Now the president will invite other political parties to form a unity government,” he told Reuters.

Sri Lanka protests
Supporters of Sri Lanka’s ruling party run as police fire tear gas in Colombo [Dinuka Liyanawatte/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, Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency, his second, drawing concerns from diplomats and rights groups.

Additional reporting by Rathindra Kuruwita from Colombo

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies