Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned over the government’s handling of the island nation’s worst economic crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. However, his brother is refusing to step down as president
Protests over rising prices and shortages flared up in early April in the capital, Colombo, and have grown in size and spread across the country.
People are furious because the cost of living has become unaffordable.
Food prices started rising in late 2021, and people are now paying up to 30% more for food than a year ago. This has forced many people to skip meals.
There are also fuel shortages and power cuts, and a lack of medicines has brought the health system to the verge of collapse.
In latest series of violence, Sri Lanka has ordered troops to shoot on sight after it granted its military and police emergency powers to arrest people without warrants in the wake of Monday’s violencethat left seven people dead and resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“Security forces have been ordered to shoot on sight anyone looting public property or causing harm to life,” the defence ministry said on Tuesday.
Shortages of fuel, food and medicine brought thousands onto the streets in more than a month of protests that had been mostly peaceful until this week. Protesters are also demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the younger brother of Mahinda Rajapksa, amid a devastating economic crisis.
Some reports surfaced of angry protesters attacking politicians associated with the government late on Monday, setting fire to homes, shops and businesses they own.
The situation had largely calmed by Tuesday, barring reports of sporadic unrest, said police spokesman Nihal Thalduwa, adding that some 200 people had been injured on Monday.
Reporting from Colombo on Tuesday, Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez said: “There is a heavy military presence. On our way, we were stopped at multiple checkpoints manned by the air force, some by the army and the navy.”
According to the latest decision, the military can detain people for up to 24 hours before handing them to the police, while any private property can be searched by forces, the government said in a gazette notification on Tuesday.
The violence on Monday that led to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation had happened in spite of the state of emergency
He spoke to hundreds of gathered supporters on Monday after initial, unconfirmed reports that he was considering stepping down.
After his remarks, many of them, armed with iron bars, stormed a camp of anti-government protesters, beating them and setting fire to their tents.
Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the skirmishes, after having initially done little to hold back the government supporters, witnesses told the Reuters news agency.
Thousands streamed into the streets in celebration after Rajapaksa’s resignation, but the mood quickly became tense.
Protesters attempted to tear down the gates of Temple Trees, his residence in the centre of Colombo, where broken glass and discarded footwear littered the surrounding streets on Tuesday, after some of the night’s worst clashes.
Military personnel patrolled the area, where eight torched vehicles lay partially submerged in a lake. Discarded files and smashed equipment littered the ransacked offices of government officials.
Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis follows the COVID pandemic, which hit key tourism earnings and left the government grappling with rising oil prices and the effects of populist tax cuts.
It has sought assistance from multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as Asian giants India and China.
Former Finance Minister Ali Sabry, who resigned on Monday along with the rest of Rajapaksa’s cabinet, has said useable foreign reserves stand at as little as $50m.