Hundreds of protesters – reportedly armed with clubs, iron rods, rocks and other crude weapons – attempted to storm the house of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Mirihana district of Colombo, Sri Lanka , Thursday evening, demanding that his government address the chronic shortages of fuel, food, medicine and electricity that the country is experiencing.
Sri Lanka has seen almost incessant protests over the past month, sparked by widespread shortages of basics such as fuel, food and medicine. Hospitals began to cancel surgeries due to a lack of essential medicines, and blackouts caused regular blackouts that lasted up to 1 p.m. Gasoline supply lines grew so long that outraged citizens killed each other over them.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is facing the biggest crisis of his term since he began his presidency in 2019. Rajapaksa is the younger brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former president credited with ending Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009. The elder Rajapaksa is currently the country’s prime minister, a post he won after losing a protracted battle with his predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2018, who claimed President Maithripala Sirisena unconstitutionally ousted him . Sirisena failed to install Rajapaksa, but Gotabaya Rajapaksa became president the following year and gave the post to his brother.
Violent scenes erupted Thursday night outside the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidential estate as hundreds of people tried to storm the house, according to local reports. Police responded to the protest using tear gas and water cannons, while reports indicate that some in the crowd began to retaliate with rocks:
— DailyMirror (@Dailymirror_SL) March 31, 2022
Eyewitnesses testifying at the scene accused the police of brutality.
“I was beaten like an animal,” a man told News 1st, claiming that officers had administered the beatings:
that of Sri Lanka DailyMirror reported that the government had deployed the military to control the crowd. He also reported that the mob set fire to at least one army bus outside the presidential residence, posting dramatic videos of the incident:
Protests continue in Mirihana pic.twitter.com/KQW7v2s5X1
— DailyMirror (@Dailymirror_SL) March 31, 2022
Ada Derana, another Sri Lankan outlet, reported that on Thursday protesters destroyed “two buses, a jeep, a three-wheeler, [and] two motorcycles” belonging to the police and the army.
The crowd scene occurred during a scheduled blackout in the area. Rajapaksa was apparently not at home.
Rajapaksa’s media office blamed “organized extremists”, without naming any particular organization, for Thursday’s violence, saying the protest was initially made up of peaceful civilians, but unidentified criminals wielding “iron bars and clubs” had “provoked” the demonstrators to try to storm the presidential residence. The Rajapaksa government, however, has not been uniform in this assertion. Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara issued a statement on Friday denying that any organization was involved in the incident.
“I don’t think it was extremist elements. It was just an act of sabotage. They came to stage a protest and started damaging vehicles and public property. This prompted the police to use tear gas,” he reportedly said.
Wickremesinghe, the former prime minister, who remains a prominent opposition figure, also condemned the president’s press office and others accusing organized criminals, terrorists or “racists” of being behind of the demonstration.
“This was not a racist incident. This was not a terrorist incident. Such comments would only exacerbate the already volatile situation,” he said in a statement. at Jubilee Post were peaceful, however, at Pangiriwatta that situation has changed.”
Wickremesinghe blamed the government for allowing Sri Lanka’s entire political system to “collapse” because of the ongoing unrest in the country at large.
“This incident can be described as the result of the collapse of the current political structure. The government has failed to address the issues plaguing the citizens of Sri Lanka,” the former prime minister said. “The opposition has not assumed its responsibility either. The government blames various groups for the incident, but they must present evidence to support these claims.
Police arrested 54 people, including journalists. the DailyMirror and Ada Derana both reported that their reporters on site had been injured trying to cover the chaos, posting photos showing their reporters sporting large bruises on their bodies.
“Ada Derana’s Colombo correspondent, Nissanka Werapitiya, is currently being treated at Colombo National Hospital. He also underwent surgery this afternoon,” the outlet detailed. “Meanwhile, a Another Ada Derana correspondent, Sumedha Sanjeewa, who was obtaining video footage of the protest, was also attacked by the officers and later taken into custody by Mirihana police.”
the DailyMirror did not explicitly blame their journalists injured during the protests.
DailyMirror staff photographers Nisal Baduge and Waruna Wanniarachchi who were among those covering the protest, suffered multiple head and arm injuries after being struck by rocks and other blunt objects,” the report updated. newspaper. “Nisal was hit in the head by a rock while Waruna was seriously injured and videos circulated showing him being carried by passers-by with blood gushing from his head.
The newspaper said its reporters were trapped in a tight crowd by police roadblocks that made it impossible for them to avoid projectiles thrown into the crowd.
The government has confirmed that it inadvertently arrested journalists covering the protests.
“When a crowd turns violent, security personnel can hardly control everyone,” said Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella. “Anyone could carry a map and move around. I don’t justify the arrests. This should not have happened with journalists. Unfortunately, it happened. We will ensure that the rights of media personnel are guaranteed.