Sri Lanka’s former PM holed up in naval base amid violent protests
Colombo, May 11 (EFE).- Mahinda Rajapaksa, who stepped down as prime minister of Sri Lanka earlier this week amid violent protests against the government, has been taken to a naval base in the eastern port district of Trincomalee until the situation calms down, the defense secretary said on Wednesday.
Rajapaksa resigned on Monday after his supporters attacked non violent protesters, who had been camped near the official residence of the prime minister and the Presidential Secretariat for weeks, and destroyed their tents.
The attack occurred soon after Rajapaksa addressed his supporters at a public meeting.
Later, mobs, angered by the attack on peaceful demonstrators, surrounded Rajapaksa’s official residence creating a security risk for the former two-term president.
He left the house in the early hours of Tuesday amid heavy security provided by the military, after the police repeatedly used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protesters.
“We have taken Mahinda Rajapaksa to Trincomalee Navy base for his safety after protecting (him) from thousands of violent protesters surrounding his official residence, Temple Trees,” Defense Secretary Kamal Gunaratne told reporters in Colombo.
“As soon as the situation returns to normal, he will be relocated to a place of his choice,” he added.
People in Tricomalee area on Tuesday had gathered at the entrance of the naval base following rumors of Rajapaksa having taken refuge there.
However, a naval officer, who asked not to be named, told EFE the protesters have now left the area.
Rajapaksa faces public anger after his supporters attacked the peaceful protesters with wooden poles and iron rods, leading to widespread outrage and retaliatory attacks that prompted him to step down.
The clashes have have left at least nine dead and 219 injured. The anti-government mob violence which started after the Monday attack has mostly targeted the legislators of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) party.
Defense secretary Gunaratne said 136 properties, including residential buildings, have been either damaged or burnt, while 61 public and private vehicles have been damaged including two police vehicles.
Amid a state of emergency in the country, the defense ministry has ordered the military to shoot at violent protesters. A curfew imposed on Monday has been extended to Thursday morning.
Gunaratne stressed that the country was now slowly returning to normalcy.
“Apart from a few minor incidents, no major violent incident except the Negombo incident has taken place in the last 24 hours,” Gunaratne said referring to an ethnic clash near the western town of Negombo, adding the situation has “calmed down.”
The defense secretary also said that the military will go to “any extent” for Rajapaksa’s security, to which he is entitled by virtue of being a former president (2005-2015).
Protests erupted in the country two months ago after the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa, failed to ensure the supply of essential commodities including fuel, cooking gas, medicines, food, and milk powder amid a severe economic crisis. EFE