Mahinda flees to Navalbase as Rajapaksa houses burnt

Shoot orders in Colombo, India backs 'democracy, stability'

Colombo/New Delhi: A massive protest began in front of Trincomalee naval base in eastern Sri Lanka on Tuesday as it emerged that former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and some of his family members had taken shelter there after leaving Temple Trees, his official Colombo residence, from where he had to be rescued in an Army helicopter after huge crowds surrounded it.

Violence erupted in Sri Lanka Monday after the former PM’s supporters attacked peaceful anti-government protesters demanding his ouster over the country’s worst economic crisis. At least eight people were killed and over 200 injured in the violence in Colombo and other cities.

The authorities imposed a nationwide curfew and deploy the military in Colombo, but the protests continued unabated on Tuesday. The defence ministry finally ordered shoot-at-sight orders to stop those involved in looting or damaging property, a day after mobs targeted the homes of ruling party politicians. “The security forces have been ordered to shoot at sight anyone looting public property or causing harm to life,” it said.

The protesters swarmed the entrance to the office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s younger brother, for the 32nd day to demand that he follow in his brother’s footsteps and quit. The protesters also set up a checkpoint on the road leading to Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo to prevent Rajapaksa family loyalists from fleeing the country.

In New Delhi, the Indian government said it fully supported “democracy, stability and economic recovery” in the island nation, saying India “has extended this year alone support worth over $3.5 billion to the people of Sri Lanka for helping them overcome their current difficulties”. New Delhi is closely watching the developments unfolding in its bankrupt, debt-ridden maritime neighbour, where Chinese influence has grown rapidly in the past few years. New Delhi said: “As a close neighbour of Sri Lanka, with historical ties, India is fully supportive of its democracy, stability and economic recovery… India will always be guided by the best interests of the people of Sri Lanka.”

A group of lawyers also filed a complaint at the police headquarters on Tuesday seeking the arrest of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his colleagues for having instigated Monday’s violence. The violence on Monday saw arson attacks on the homes of several politicians, including the ancestral home of the Rajapaksas in Hambantota.

Video footage showed the entire house of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at Medamulana in Hambantota city burning. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s house at Kurunegala was also set on fire by the protesters.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal, meanwhile, told the media his father will not flee Sri Lanka. “There are a lot of rumours that we are going to leave. We will not leave the country,” said Namal, who was at one time projected as a future national leader, and described the surge of national anger against his family as a “bad patch”.

He added that Mahinda will not step down as a legislator and wanted to play an active role in choosing his successor. “My father is safe, he is at a safe location and he is communicating with the family,” said Namal, who had served as Sri Lanka’s sports minister till a Cabinet shakeup in April.

The Speaker of Sri Lanka’s Parliament, Mahinda Yapa Abeyawardene, on Tuesday requested President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to call the legislature into session this week to discuss the current situation. The Speaker said that he had telephoned the President with his request. Parliamentary officials said the President will have to reconvene Parliament ahead of its regular May 17 date as there is no Prime Minister or government at present.

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