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Sri Lankan prime minister resigns after weeks of protests

The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned Monday following weeks of protests demanding that he and his brother, the president, step down over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Rajapaksa said on Twitter that he submitted his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There was no immediate comment from the president’s office.

The resignation comes after authorities deployed armed troops in the capital, Colombo, on Monday following an attack earlier in the day by government supporters on protesters who have been camped outside the offices of the president and prime minister.

The violence triggered widespread anger, with people singling out Rajapaksa supporters and attacking them in many parts of the country. Buses carrying the supporters back from the morning meeting were blocked and also attacked. Homes of some government ministers and politicians supporting the Rajapaksas were attacked and some set on fire.

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The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans. For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy scarce fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad.

Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation.

As oil prices soar during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Sri Lanka’s fuel stocks are running out. Authorities have announced countrywide power cuts because they can’t supply enough fuel to power stations.

The economic woes have brought on a political crisis, with the government facing widespread protests and a no-confidence motion in Parliament. Trade unions also called Monday for a general strike until the president and the rest of his ruling family leave.

The president has so far refused to resign and Parliament must go through a difficult process if it attempts to oust him.

The resignation of the prime minister means that the entire Cabinet is dissolved.

Supporters of the prime minister rallied inside his office earlier Monday, urging him to ignore the protesters' demand to step down. Rajapaksa told them in a meeting that he is used to protests and revolts and would not run away from challenges.

After the gathering, the Rajapaksa supporters went to the front of the prime minister's official residence where protesters have been demonstrating for several days. They attacked the protesters with wooden and iron poles, pulled their camping tents down and set them on fire as police looked on.

An injured Sri Lankan Buddhist monk is carried away after being attacked by government supporters outside Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, May 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The attack occurred despite a state of emergency declared by the president last Friday which gives him wide powers for riot control.

After demolishing the protest site opposite the prime minister’s residence, the mob proceeded to the entrance to the president’s office where people have camped out for the past month.

Riot police were deployed with tear gas launchers and several water cannons, but did not use them and let the mobs breach several barriers and march toward the president’s office, where they attacked the protesters away and set their camps on fire.

Police fired tear gas and a water cannon at the protest site, but not forcefully enough to control the mob.

Protesters also hit back after police did nothing to stop the mobs.

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After the attack, hundreds of armed soldiers were deployed in the capital, as the protesters accused police of not preventing the attack, despite using tear gas and water cannons on protesters as recently as Friday.

“Police did not protect us, therefore we have taken it into our own hands,” said Druvi Jinasena, who was helping block roads to protect the protest site.

Sirasa TV showed government lawmaker Sanath Nishantha among the government supporters who attacked the protesters.

At the main hospital in Colombo, 23 people were admitted with non-critical injuries, an official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

The attack came as protesters marked their 31st day outside the president’s office. They have been demanding that the president and other powerful Rajapaksa family members quit. Similar protests have spread to other locations, with people setting up camps in other towns across the country.

This year, Sri Lanka was due to pay $7 billion of its foreign debt out of nearly $25 billion it must pay by 2026. Its total foreign debt is $51 billion.

The finance minister announced earlier this week that the country’s usable foreign reserves have plummeted below $50 million.

Sri Lanka has been holding talks with the International Monetary Fund to get an immediate funding facility as well as a long-term rescue plan but was told its progress would depend on negotiations on debt restructuring with creditors.

Any long-term plan would take at least six months to get underway.



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