Colombo, May 9: An irate mob supporting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday clashed with others wanting the entire Rajapaksa clan to quit office.
Twenty three persons were reportedly injured. An all-island curfew was immediately clamped. Subsequently, the army was called out to maintain law and order. As a precautionary measure, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had declared a State of Emergency on May 6. The proclamation had to be ratified by parliament in 14 days.
The clash took place outside the gates of the Prime Minister’s official residence and the Presidential Secretariat where groups of people were carrying on a continuous campaign to force President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign so that an efficient and corruption-free government is formed to solve the country’s pressing economic problems.
After a meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at his official residence, his supporters, who had come from various parts of the country, clashed with the already encamped anti-Rajapaksa protestors forcing the police to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse the mob.
The pro-Mahinda group then marched to the Presidential Secretariat where the ‘Go Gota Go” campaigners were encamped. Clashes took place there too. The pro-Prime Minister group set fire to the tents put up by the protestors. Lending support to the “Go Gota Go” group were the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa.
Fearing an escalation of the conflict, the police promptly clamped an island-wide curfew, so that the agitators could not get reinforcements.
In an appeal for calm, President Gotabaya said that violence would not solve the current problems and urged all to come together and solve the country’s problems. He condemned the violence and the perpetrators of violence, irrespective of political allegiances.
Monday’s incident was a fallout of the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa clash over the issue of resignation. While the President wanted the Prime Minister to resign so that a multi-party government could be formed to tackle the grave economic crisis, the Prime Minister wondered why he should resign when he was not responsible for the decisions which landed the country in an economic mess. He refused to be a scapegoat and challenged the President to sack him. He threatened that he would cross over to the opposition with a large chunk of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) members of parliament.
To demonstrate his grassroots-level support, the Prime Minister invited his supporters in the SLPP for a meeting on Monday. In an emotionally charged speech he said that he was ready to make any sacrifice for the welfare of the people of Sri Lanka and added: “My policy is to overcome challenges by facing them. We don’t have a habit of fleeing from challenges.”
The rhetoric was obviously meant to convey the impression that he would not meekly resign and fade into retirement. If he had chickened out and announced his resignation, his supporters who came to hear him from near and far, would have dispersed quietly. But the fact that they attacked the anti-Rajapaksa group protesting outside, showed that the message given by the Leader was that he would dig in and fight against his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.