Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Quits As Country Spirals into Violent Chaos

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has resigned as the small South Asian nation spirals into deadly violence sparked by anger over the country’s economic crisis.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s resignation Monday came hours after supporters of his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, attacked protesters who had been camped outside government offices in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, demanding the resignation of both brothers. Anti-riot police were deployed to repel the attackers with water cannon and tear gas.

Another violent incident Monday led to the death of ruling party lawmaker Amarakeerthi Athukorale after a confrontation with angry protesters in the town of Nittambuwa, located nearly 40 kilometers northeast of Colombo. The Associated Press says the badly beaten bodies of both Athukorale and his bodyguard were found in a building where they had been chased down and trapped by protesters after one of them had fired a gun at the protesters.

President Rajapaksa has issued a nationwide curfew to go along with the state of emergency he imposed last week.

Sri Lanka is struggling under the weight of heavy debt and declining foreign reserves that have created critical shortages of medicine, food and fuel that have led to several hours of power blackouts a day. The COVID-19 pandemic has also ground Sri Lanka’s vital tourism industry to a halt, dealing an additional blow to its economy.

Sri Lanka’s central bank has suspended all foreign debt repayments as it negotiates with the International Monetary Fund on a loan restructuring program.

President Rajapaksa had issued a state of emergency back in March to end demonstrations outside his home demanding his resignation. The decree had given police the power to make arrests without warrants and made it illegal for people to leave their homes.

But the decree was lifted a few days later after 41 lawmakers abandoned the ruling coalition and became independent, weakening the government’s control of Sri Lanka’s single-chamber parliament.

The mass resignations occurred two days after Rajapaksa’s entire 26-member Cabinet quit, including his brother, Basil, who served as finance minister.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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