05/11/2022, 18.19
SRI LANKA
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Protesters on the hunt for the former prime minister in Trincomalee

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

A crowd gathered near a naval base looking for Mahinda Rajapaksa. His eldest son denies rumors that he fled abroad; however, rumours are flying that some politicians are trying to escape the island. Blockades have been set up at the airport while a strike has shut down immigration service. Diplomats and religious leaders condemn the violence.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Following rumours that former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was hiding with his family at a naval base in Trincomalee, a crowd began gathering at the site since the early hours of yesterday.

Previously, protesters besieged Temple Trees, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in Colombo, which he allegedly left on board of a helicopter from Police Park Grounds.

Elsewhere, the homes and cars of some political leaders and government officials, including that of Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, were torched. His brother Mahinda, the former prime minister, left Temple Trees early yesterday morning after security forces cleared the area of ​​angry protesters ready to storm the area.

A few hours later the crowd moved to the naval base, loudly demanding that the Rajapaksas come out of the “safe hiding place inside the camp”.

Protesters want the former prime minister and top government officials to answer for the economic and political crises that have afflicted the country for months, as well as for the recent violence. A few days ago, President Gotabaya gave the order to shoot on sight anyone who violated the law.

According to the protesters, government members “should be arrested and tried before a court.” At the same time, many fear that the Rajapaksas might flee abroad and benefit from the billions of dollars transferred to foreign banks and tax havens, which, if brought back home, could help the country rise up and ease the suffering of people.

Meanwhile, more and more politicians are reportedly escaping the country. Yesterday morning a helicopter is said to have left the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo with a leading member of the ruling party on board.

Airport sources in the capital told AsiaNews that a group of young people attacked the Katunayake Free Trade Zone, blockading access points to the Bandaranaike International Airport “to prevent parliamentarians from leaving the country”.

According to the Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration Officers' Association (SLIEOA), staff members of the Department of Immigration and Emigration have decided to abstain from duty with immediate effect if no action is taken by the government to restore law and order.

While some reports suggest that some politicians are trying to leave the island, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s eldest son, Namal Rajapaksa, a former minister and current MP, said that his father “is in a safe place and does not intend to leave the country.”

The protest movement has set up an online petition, which it wants to deliver to the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank in which it condemns the economic crisis and the disasters caused by poor administration and bad government practices in the country’s recent history.

According to the petition, corruption and the mismanagement of public assets have aggravated the situation, and, for the first time in its post-independence history, the country has failed to honour its debt repayments and declared bankruptcy.

In Colombo, diplomats as well as religious leaders have condemned violence by pro-government groups against protesters.

For his part, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also said that he rejected violence "irrespective of political allegiances”, but much of the country yesterday celebrated his brother’s resignation as prime minister, some with firecrackers.

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