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Sri Lanka MP killed, houses torched as violence escalates

Five people including a ruling party MP were killed. Source: AFP.

COLOMBO: 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.

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.

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 from Colombo, police said. CCTV footage showed the MP and his security officer fleeing into a nearby building. They were later found dead.

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. 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.

Sri Lanka has suffered months of blackouts and dire shortages of food, fuel and medicines in its worst economic crisis, sparking weeks of mostly peaceful anti-government demonstrations.

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 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. 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.

The 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 hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and inflation has 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. On Friday, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a second state of emergency.

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