Mahinda Rajapaksa, family flee to naval base; protesters lay siege: Reports

Lanka ex-PM was rescued in a pre-dawn operation by the military after thousands of anti-government protesters, armed with petrol bombs, poured into his official residence in Colombo overnight

Protesters outside the naval base are demanding that the former PM and his family be held accountable for the crisis and arrested | File Photo - Twitter/@newsradiolk

Protests began in front of Sri Lanka’s Trincomalee Naval Base on Tuesday after reports emerged that former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and some of his family members were thereafter leaving the official residence in Colombo, a media report said.

Trincomalee is a port city on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka, 270 km from Colombo. Mahinda Rajapaksa left his official Temple Trees residence early on Tuesday morning after security forces cleared the protestors who had been protesting for hours against him and the government.

The former prime minister and his family were flown in a helicopter to the naval base, people with direct knowledge of the matter told NDTV.

Also read: Protestors storm Lanka PM’s official residence; shots fired

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According to Colombo’s Daily Mirror, a group of protestors has started a protest outside the Navy Camp demanding the former prime minister and his family be held accountable for the crisis and arrested.

Sri Lanka deployed thousands of troops and police to enforce a curfew after five people were killed in the worst violence in weeks of protests over the unprecedented economic crisis. Nearly 200 were also wounded yesterday as Mr Rajapaksa resigned, but that did little to calm public anger.

Mahinda rescued from Colombo

He had to be rescued in a pre-dawn operation by the military on 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.

“At least 10 petrol bombs were thrown into the compound,” news agency AFP reported quoting a top security officer.

Also read: Sri Lankan Airlines asks passengers to produce tickets, passports to reach airport

The Rajapaksa clan’s hold on power has been shaken by months of blackouts and shortages in Sri Lanka, the worst economic crisis since it became independent in 1948. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains in office, however, with widespread powers and command over the security forces.

SJB rejects Gotabaya’s offer

Sri Lanka’s main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya, or SJB, today rejected the President’s offer to form interim government under him. Instead, the SJB has demanded the President’s resignation. “Most of the MPs had proposed that the party should take over the government, only if the incumbent President leaves office,” he said.

The party also met the other opposition political parties, including the independent group and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to explain its stance.

Meanwhile, Leader if Opposition Sajith Premadasa in a twitter message said his party is ready to accept any responsibility, but as long as it does not involve working with any crisis instigators. “We have always offered our absolute support to overcome this crisis. It’s good to finally have a productive meeting with CB Governor and Treasury Secretary. It is a given that we will take on any responsibility as long as it does not involve working with any crisis instigators,” he said.

Ruling MPs’ houses torched

Outside Colombo, ruling party lawmaker Amarakeerthi Athukorala shot two people on Monday – killing a 27-year-old man – after being surrounded by a mob of anti-government protestors, police said. “He then took his own life with his revolver,” a police officer told AFP, adding Mr Athukorala’s bodyguard was also found dead at the scene.

At least 41 homes of top ruling party politicians were torched overnight despite curfews. Hundreds of motorcycles parked in those homes were also burnt. “This is something we should have done earlier,” an unidentified man in front of a burning home of a minister told a local media network. “We are sorry we couldn’t burn it sooner.”

It is unclear what President Rajapaksa’s next move will be in the face of the protests, according to Akhil Bery of the Asia Society Policy Institute. Aside from following his brother in resigning, he could appoint a caretaker government — before then quitting — deploy the military and police to suppress the protests, or try to wait for them to “die down naturally,” Mr Bery told AFP.

Also Read: ‘This is nothing short of catastrophe’: Lankans despair as crisis grips nation

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