Sri Lanka deploys troops in capital after violence, protests – The Denver Post

By KRISHAN FRANCIS

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Sri Lankan authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops on the streets of the capital on Wednesday, two days after pro-government mobs attacked peaceful protesters, sparking a wave of violence across the country.

Security forces have been ordered to shoot those believed to be taking part in the violence as sporadic arson and vandalism continued despite a strict nationwide curfew that began Monday night.

Anti-government protesters have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, who resigned as prime minister this week, over a debt crisis that has nearly bankrupted Sri Lanka and left the population with severe shortages of fuel, food and other essentials. † In recent days, eight people have been killed and more than 200 injured in violent attacks that set fire to buildings and vehicles.

Armored trucks carrying soldiers enter some areas of Colombo. Some protesters defied the curfew and regrouped across from the president’s office to continue the demonstrations that began more than three weeks ago. Police announced through loudspeakers that it is illegal to stay in public places during curfews.

Videos posted to social media showed rows of military trucks leaving the capital, along with soldiers riding motorcycles, setting up checkpoints across the country in fear a political vacuum could pave the way for a military takeover.

Top Defense Ministry official Kamal Gunaratne denied speculation about a military takeover during a press conference with the country’s army and naval chiefs.

“None of our officers have any desire to take over the government. It’s never happened in our country and it’s not easy to do here,” Gunaratne said. President Rajapaksa is a former top military officer and remains the country’s official defense minister.

Gunaratne said the army will return to its barracks as soon as the security situation normalizes.

The US State Department expressed its concern about the military deployment.

Spokesperson Ned Price said it is “closely monitoring troop deployment, which is something of concern to us”.

The Prime Minister’s departure has created an administrative vacuum without a cabinet, which has been automatically resolved with his resignation.

Naval commander Nishantha Ulugetenne said the former prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is being protected at a naval base in Trincomalee on the northeast coast.

After Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned, he and his family were evacuated from his official residence by thousands of protesters who attempted to break into the heavily guarded colonial-era building.

The Indian embassy denied speculation on social media that “certain political persons and their families have fled to India”, and also rejected speculation that India would send troops to Sri Lanka.

India’s foreign ministry on Tuesday confirmed its support for Sri Lanka, saying it had provided $3.5 billion to help overcome the economic crisis and sent essential items such as food and medicines.

On Monday, supporters gathered at the prime minister’s official residence to urge Mahinda Rajapaksa to remain in office. After the rally, crowds supporting the government beat peaceful protesters camped near the prime minister’s residence and the president’s office and demanded their resignation, while police looked on and did little to stop them. Across the country, angry citizens reacted by attacking government supporters and politicians of the ruling party.

Eight people, including a ruling party lawmaker and two police officers, were killed and 219 injured in the violence, the defense ministry said. In addition, 104 buildings and 60 vehicles were burned.

Pro-government gangs were chased, beaten and stripped. As news spread about where buses were taking the government supporters, people smashed them and set them on fire. Homes of government supporters were attacked and several businesses were set on fire.

The European Union has called on the authorities to investigate the events and hold those who instigated and carried out the violence to account.

Sri Lanka is approaching bankruptcy and has suspended payments for $7 billion in foreign loans due this year of the $25 billion due in 2026. Total foreign debt is $51 billion.

The shortage of foreign currency has led to falling imports and acute shortages of basic necessities, including food, cooking gas, fuel and medicines. For months, people have been forced to stand in long lines for hours to buy the limited supplies, and many return with nothing.

Protesters blame the alleged corruption and governance style of the Rajapaksa brothers for the economic crisis.

Sri Lanka has entered into talks with the International Monetary Fund about a rescue plan and is starting negotiations with creditors about debt restructuring.

The Central Bank on Wednesday urged the president and parliament to quickly restore political stability and warned the economy of a further collapse within days.

“Even if we want to make progress with debt restructuring, we need a stable kind of government. A cabinet, a parliament, a prime minister and a finance minister are all needed,” said central bank governor Nandalal Weerasinghe.

“Without such a board, it is very difficult for us to move forward.”

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