Sri Lanka in crisis: Government struggles to restore calm amid continued violence

The Indian High Commission in Colombo issued a statement denying rumors—without naming Rajapaksa—that “certain political persons and their family” fled to India.

May 11, 2022
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Sri Lanka in crisis (Photo: Tiwtter)

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka is struggling to maintain order, despite Mahinda Rajapaksa resigning as prime minister earlier this week, amid widespread violence, looting, and arson, prompting the government to order Tuesday armed forces to shoot anyone involved in incidents. Violence, sparked by the government supporters’ attack on protestors on Monday, continued for sporadically for the third day Wednesday, leaving eight people dead, and injuring over 200.

Over 100 houses, and public and commercial properties, including those of members of the ruling party, were targeted by angry protestors. The Ministry of Defence, in a statement, said it had ordered tri-forces to shoot at all those causing damage or looting properties.

President Rajapaksa appealed to the youth to help “maintain calm and stop violence and acts of revenge” against citizens, irrespective of their political affiliation. “All efforts will be made to restore political stability through consensus, within constitutional mandate & to resolve the economic crisis,” he said in a tweet.

Curfew, which was imposed on Monday, was extended till Thursday. After initially asking the president to convene an urgent parliament session to resolve the crisis, the speaker of parliament later said the house should be reconvened only after restoring order and ensuring the safety of parliamentarians.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had resigned on Monday, reportedly left his official residence, Temple Trees, on Tuesday morning after overnight violent protests by angry mobs. Rajapaksa and his family have taken shelter at a naval base in Trincomalee in the northeast part of the island nation, unidentified sources have told NDTV. However, no official confirmation has come yet.

NDTV said Rajapaksa had to be rescued in a pre-dawn operation by the military Tuesday after thousands of anti-government protesters poured into his official residence in Colombo overnight, with police firing tear gas and warning shots to keep back the crowd.  

The Indian High Commission in Colombo issued a statement denying rumors—without naming Rajapaksa—that “certain political persons and their family” fled to India.

“High Commission has recently noticed rumors circulating in sections of media & social media that certain political persons and their families have fled to India. These are fake and blatantly false reports, devoid of any truth or substance. High Commission strongly denies them,” the Indian mission said in a tweet.

Significantly, this is the third rebuttal issued by the high commission concerning what appears a deliberate attempt to tarnish New Delhi’s image through fake news and disinformation campaign amid the crisis.

In a measured statement, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said on Tuesday, “As a close neighbor of Sri Lanka, with historical ties, India is fully supportive of its democracy, stability, and economic recovery.” The response indicates New Delhi’s unwillingness to be seen as supporting what appears an extremely unpopular regime in Sri Lanka, while at the same time assuring help and economic assistance to crisis-hit people in the country.
Constantino Xavier, a fellow at New Delhi-based think tank the Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP), termed it a “classic dual-track crisis response: freeze on political relations, sustain economic ties.” This, he opined, is akin to bypassing “dispensation” and working directly with society and people— a strategy earlier adopted in Nepal in 2020, Afghanistan in 2021, and Myanmar last year.

(SAM)

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