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Sri Lanka sends troops to the capital after clashes during protests

COLOMBO – Authorities deployed armed troops for hours in the capital Colombo on Monday after government supporters attacked protesters encamped outside the offices of the country’s president and prime minister as unions began a “week of protests” calling for a change of government and its president called for resignation because of the country’s worst economic crisis on record.

The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans. Its economic woes have led to a political crisis, with the government facing widespread protests and a motion of no confidence in parliament.

Supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa rallied at his office on Monday, urging him to ignore protesters’ calls to resign and urging him to remain in office.

After the meeting, they went in front of the office where demonstrators have been demonstrating for several days. Local TV station Sirasa showed pro-government supporters attacking protesters with clubs and iron bars, destroying and later burning their tents.

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After the attack, hundreds of armed soldiers were deployed in Colombo as protesters accused Sirasa TV that police failed to intervene to stop the attack despite using tear gas and water cannons on protesters as recently as Friday.

Sirasa TV revealed that Government MP Sanath Nishantha was among the government supporters who attacked the protesters.

Twenty-three wounded were admitted to the capital Colombo’s main hospital and their condition is not critical, an official said on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to speak to the media.

The attack came as protesters were celebrating their 31st day outside the offices of the President and Prime Minister. They demanded that the President, his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and other powerful Rajapaksa family members resign. Similar protests have spread to other locations, with people setting up camps opposite the prime minister’s residence and in other cities across the country.

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So far, the Rajapaksa brothers have resisted calls for their resignations, although three of the five Rajapaksa lawmakers resigned from their cabinet posts in April.

Meanwhile, unions on Monday called for protests for this week, union activist Saman Rathnapriya said, and more than 1,000 unions representing the healthcare, port, education and other key service sectors have joined the week of protests movement .

He said workers will hold demonstrations at their workplaces across the country throughout the week. At the end of the week they will launch a grand march to Parliament demanding the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and a new government.

For several months, Sri Lankans have had to endure long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicines, most of which come from abroad. Hard currency shortages have also hampered imports of commodities for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which rose to 18.7% in March.

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People blocked main roads to demand petrol and fuel. On Sunday, local TV station Hiru showed people fighting over fuel in some areas.

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

Sri Lanka’s finance minister announced earlier this week that the country’s usable foreign exchange reserves have fallen below $50 million.

As oil prices soar during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Sri Lanka’s fuel supplies are running low. Authorities have said nationwide power outages will rise to about four a day because they can’t keep power plants running with enough fuel.

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Since March, protesters have thronged the streets claiming that Rajapaksa and his family – who have dominated almost every aspect of Sri Lankan life for the past 20 years – are to blame for the crisis.

On Friday, Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency, empowering him to authorize arrests, confiscation of property and searches of premises. He can also amend or suspend any law in the interest of public safety and to maintain basic services. Diplomats and rights groups have expressed their concerns about the move.

Sri Lanka has held talks with the International Monetary Fund for an immediate financing facility as well as a long-term bailout plan, but was told its progress would depend on debt restructuring negotiations with creditors.

Any long-term plan would take at least six months to get off the ground.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/09/sri-lanka-deploys-troops-to-capital-after-clash-at-protest/ Sri Lanka sends troops to the capital after clashes during protests

Joel McCord

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