Foreign

Sri Lanka Crisis: Ex-PM flees to Naval Base Amid Protests

Security forces are deployed across Sri Lanka with orders to shoot looters on sight amid continuing protests at the government’s handling of a devastating economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has vowed to restore order, in his first national speech since protests began last month.

Ignoring calls to resign, he offered to cede some powers to parliament and name a Prime minister, but set no timetable.

His brother quit as PM on Monday amid fury over soaring prices and shortages.

Sri Lankans are desperate as basic items like food and fuel run out or become unaffordable.

“We have come to the protest site despite the curfew,” one protester, Chandrasekaran, told BBC Tamil in Colombo. “We are suffering even now. There is no kerosene, no petrol, no diesel, and no power.”

Despite a nationwide curfew, there have been two consecutive nights of arson attacks by mobs – many have targeted property belonging to the Rajapaksas and other politicians who are blamed for the mess the country is in.

Shops near Colombo were torched, as well as a resort owned by the son of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Mr Rajapaksa, the President’s elder brother and a two-time former president, is holed up in a naval base in the north-east for his own safety, the military has confirmed.

At least nine people have been killed and about 200 injured in unrest since Monday. It began when government supporters attacked protesters who are demanding that Gotabaya Rajapaksa leave office.

Opposition politicians have warned the violence could have been staged to give the army a pretext to take power. Rumours of a possible coup have been fuelled by the presence of large numbers of troops with armoured vehicles on the streets.

But the military have denied any such move is planned.

“When there is a dangerous situation in the country, powers are given to the military to deal with it,” Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne told a news conference.

“Don’t ever think that we are trying to capture power. The military has no such intentions.”

Sri Lanka had already seen weeks of protests over its dire financial situation, which has caused the Sri Lankan rupee to plunge, provoking severe shortages of basic items such as food, fuel and medical supplies.

The worst trouble overnight was in the north of the capital, Colombo, where rival groups set fire to shops in the town of Negombo.

Bbc/Adebukola Aluko

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