Security forces are deployed across Sri Lanka with orders to shoot looters on sight amid continuing protests at the government’s handling of a devastating economic crisis.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has vowed to restore order, in his first national speech since protests began last month.
Ignoring calls to resign, he offered to cede some powers to the parliament and name a prime minister but set no timetable.
His brother quit as PM on Monday amid fury over soaring prices and shortages.
Sri Lankans are desperate as basic items like food and fuel run out or become unaffordable.
“We have come to the protest site despite the curfew,” one protester, Chandrasekaran, told BBC Tamil in Colombo. “We are suffering even now. There is no kerosene, no petrol, no diesel, and no power.”
Despite a nationwide curfew, there have been two consecutive nights of arson attacks by mobs – many have targeted property belonging to the Rajapaksas and other politicians who are blamed for the mess the country is in.
Shops near Colombo were torched, as well as a resort owned by the son of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr Rajapaksa, the president’s elder brother and a two-time former president, is holed up in a naval base in the northeast for his own safety, the military has confirmed.
At least nine people have been killed and about 200 injured in unrest since Monday. It began when government supporters attacked protesters who are demanding that Gotabaya Rajapaksa leave office.
Opposition politicians have warned the violence could have been staged to give the army a pretext to take power. Rumours of a possible coup have been fuelled by the presence of large numbers of troops with armoured vehicles on the streets.
But the military has denied any such move is planned.
“When there is a dangerous situation in the country, powers are given to the military to deal with it,” Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne told a news conference.
“Don’t ever think that we are trying to capture power. The military has no such intentions.”
Sri Lanka had already seen weeks of protests over its dire financial situation, which has caused the Sri Lankan rupee to plunge, provoking severe shortages of basic items such as food, fuel and medical supplies.
The worst trouble overnight was in the north of the capital, Colombo, where rival groups set fire to shops in the town of Negombo.
On Monday night, mobs burned more than 50 houses belonging to politicians, while a controversial museum dedicated to the Rajapaksa family was also razed to the ground in their traditional heartland, Hambantota, in the country’s south.
Shops, businesses and offices were shut for a third day on Wednesday under a nationwide curfew in place until Thursday morning.
Another protester told the BBC the president’s speech on Wednesday was long overdue.
“Where were you for the last 30 days? People don’t have medicine, people don’t have food, the entire country’s at a standstill,” Kavindya Thennakoon said. “The reforms he’s suggesting are not what we need. What we need right now is for [the president] to resign from office… It baffles my mind that Gotabaya Rajapaksa doesn’t understand that.”
The streets of the capital, Colombo, bear the evidence of this week’s rioting – a heavy police presence, troops on the streets, and overturned and burnt buses after Monday’s violence.
Nonetheless, protesters continue to gather despite the curfew at Galle Face Green. They insist President Rajapaksa has grossly mismanaged the economy and must stand aside.
He is the last Rajapaksa family member in office and the resignation of his brother as prime minister did nothing to placate demonstrators or bring calm.
President Rajapaksa says he is holding talks with other political parties aimed at forming a unity government. But the main opposition has said it will not be part of the interim administration unless the president stands down.
At present, there is no clarity on which political parties might come together to form such a government.
The political stalemate comes as Sri Lanka attempts to iron out a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – the island’s $81bn economy is near bankruptcy.
It has suspended its foreign debt payments, largely because it cannot service loans from China that paid for massive infrastructure projects.
While the pandemic hit the vital tourism sector and shrank Sri Lanka’s earnings and foreign exchange reserves, experts say problems have been exacerbated by populist tax cuts in 2019 and a disastrous ban on chemical fertilisers in 2021 that devastated crop yields.
Protesters gathered in front of Trincomalee Naval Base in the northeast after reports that Mahinda Rajapaksa had fled there with his family after escaping from his Colombo residence when it was besieged by crowds on Monday night.
The military confirmed on Wednesday that he was inside the base.
“We took Mahinda to the naval base for safety reasons,” the defence secretary said.
Earlier, there had been rumours that Mr Rajapaksa and others in the family had fled to India, which the Indian High Commission in Colombo denied.
Sri Lankans are still reeling from the violence that has erupted. Many politicians are sheltering in safe houses or avoiding appearing in public.
“It is not at all safe, particularly for politicians on the government side,” Nalaka Godahewa, until recently media minister, told the BBC. His house was among those torched.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, once celebrated by the majority Sinhalese as a war hero for defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels, has suddenly become a villain. Many blame his supporters for targeting anti-government protesters, which then set off a chain of violent events.
The Rajapaksas have always stood together, but this time, their differences are out in the open. The problem appears to have started after Gotabaya asked the family patriarch Mahinda to “take one for the team” and resign.
How the family, who have dominated Sri Lankan politics for years, overcome this crisis is now an open question.
Sri Lankan security forces have been ordered to shoot law-breakers on sight in a bid to quell anti-government protests on the island.
Demonstrators are calling for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the island’s worst economic crisis in history.
On Monday, his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down as prime minister amid violent street clashes.
But the resignation failed to bring calm and violence continued overnight.
On Tuesday, the government ordered troops to open fire on anyone looting public property or causing “harm to life”.
It also deployed tens of thousands of army, navy and air force personnel to patrol the streets of the capital Colombo.
Despite their presence, the city’s top police officer was assaulted on Tuesday afternoon by a mob accusing him of not doing enough to protect peaceful protesters.
At Colombo’s Galle Face Green, on the sea front, crowds also continued to gather.
Police say eight people have died and the capital’s main hospital says more than 200 people have been wounded since Monday.
Some were injured by pro-government mobs, others when police fired tear gas into crowds. Lawyers acting for the protesters told the BBC they were filing cases against supporters of the prime minister.
An island-wide curfew has been extended to Thursday morning as authorities seek to end the violence.
Evidence of last night’s rioting is everywhere across Colombo – buses thrown into the lake, others with windows smashed out and tyres still burning.
More than 50 houses of politicians were burned overnight, reports say. Crowds remain outside the office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of Mahinda, calling on him to quit.
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s president on Friday agreed to replace his older brother as prime minister in a proposed interim government to solve a political crisis caused by the country’s worst economic crisis.
“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed that a national council will be appointed to name a new prime minister and Cabinet comprised of all parties in Parliament,” lawmaker Maithripala Sirisena said after meeting with the president. Sirisena was a governing party lawmaker before defecting earlier this month along with nearly 40 other legislators. Protesters who have crowded the streets since March hold them responsible for the crisis.
Foreigners who deposit $100,000 locally will be granted permission to live and work in Sri Lanka for 10 years, says the report.
Cash-strapped Sri Lanka has announced it would sell long-term visas to attract desperately needed foreign currency, says a report, as the island nation runs out of dollars to pay for food and fuel.
Foreigners who deposit a minimum of $100,000 locally will be granted permission to live and work in Sri Lanka for 10 years under the Golden Paradise Visa Programme, the government said on Tuesday, according to the AFP news agency.
The money should be locked in a local bank account for the duration of the stay, the government said in a statement.
“This scheme will help Sri Lanka at a time when we are facing the worst financial crisis since our independence,” media minister Nalaka Godahewa told reporters in Colombo.
The government also approved the granting of five-year visas to any foreigner spending a minimum of $75,000 to buy an apartment on the island.
The government has signalled a willingness to consider constitutional reforms that could pare back the authority of the president, who gave himself sweeping powers to appoint and sack ministers, judges and public servants after his 2019 election.
His government also rolled back democratic reforms that gave statutory independence to the police, civil service, election commission and the judiciary.
Sri Lanka’s economic collapse began to be felt after the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed vital revenue from tourism and remittances.
Utilities unable to pay for fuel imports have imposed lengthy daily blackouts to ration power, while long lines snake around service stations as people queue for petrol and kerosene.
Hospitals are short of vital medicines, the government has appealed to citizens abroad for donations and record inflation has added to everyday hardships.
Sri Lankan officials arrived in the United States last week to negotiate a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.
Public Sector Trade Union and Civil Society Organizations have jointly declared an island-wide protest day on Wednesday (20).
It has been named “National Black Protest Day”.
Member of the Trade Union Confederation, Ravi Kumudesh stated that the protest is being held demanding the immediate resignation of the President and the Government.
Former President, Maithripala Sirisena has spoken about the incident which occurred in Rambukkana, and has stated that he condemns it, adding that such an incident did not take place throughout the five years which he held Presidency from 2015.
Meanwhile, the former Minister of Youth and Sports, Namal Rajapaksa has also condemned the incident, stating that whichever side anyone is at, it must be agreed that violence is not the way to solve anything.
He has also urged authorities and protestors alike to not to give into violence and to stop escalating any further.
Whichever side we are on, we must all agree that violence is not the way to solve anything! Our country has seen enough! We must protect peace at all costs! I urge authorities & protestors a like to not give into violence & stop this escalating any further! @SL_PoliceMedia
— Namal Rajapaksa (@RajapaksaNamal) April 19, 2022