Sri Lanka blames ‘extremist group’ for violence outside president’s house

Colombo, Apr 1 (EFE).- The Sri Lanka government Friday blamed an unnamed “organized extremist group” for the violent unrest near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence during an overnight protest against the raging economic crisis.

Police said they arrested 45 protesters after demonstrators set ablaze a military bus and four private vehicles outside the presidential residence during the protests late Thursday.

Five police officers suffered injuries and were hospitalized, a police statement said.

Police fired tear gas canisters and used water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to enter Rajapaksa’s residence amid widespread outrage over an economic crisis that is causing power cuts and shortages of essentials on the Indian Ocean island nation.

The protesters demanded the president step down, alleging that he had failed to address the crisis that has forced people to form long queues for fuel and cooking gas.

“It has been revealed that a group of organized extremists were among the protesters, and this group suddenly became riotous and turned violent,” a presidential office statement said.

“The group carrying iron clubs and sticks provoked the protesters and marched towards the president’s residence, causing a riot.”

The presidential office alleged that the organizers had called for “an Arab Spring in Sri Lanka” to trigger instability on the island.

“They have led the protest calling for an Arab Spring in this country,” said the statement.

The statement said the interrogation of the arrested protesters revealed that “the tense situation was created to destabilize the country through a well-planned creative social media usage.”

The demonstration continued until Friday wee hours as protesters repeatedly regrouped and attempted to move forward near the president’s house, resisting the police force.

Police and hospital sources said dozens, including police officers and journalists, suffered injuries during the protest that began as a silent agitation at a junction on the road to the President’s house.

Daily demonstrations have rocked Sri Lanka since early March as protesters allege that the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Pereuna (SLPP) failed to handle the economic crisis.

The state-owned power utility, the Ceylon Electricity Board (ECB), Thursday imposed a record 13-hour curtailment schedule due to the lack of fuel.

Government officials told EFE on condition of anonymity that the sudden decision to increase the duration of the blackout from Wednesday’s 10 hours came after authorities failed to pay for a consignment of diesel.

Officials privy to the situation said the operators of the vessel carrying fuel said they would not enter the Sri Lankan territorial waters until payment.

“We are receiving an Indian ship under the $500 million credit line on Apr.2 and the CEB can assure the people that the power cut duration could be reduced below four hours,” CEB chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando told reporters on Wednesday.

Thermal power accounts for more than 70 percent of the electricity generated in Sri Lanka. The plants depend on fossil fuels.

While the government had assured the people that the duration of power cuts would gradually shrink beginning Mar.5, the situation worsened due to the lack of fuel, resulting in long queues outside gas stations despite drastic price hikes. EFE


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