Tens of thousands of protestors arriving from the site of the GotaGoGama agitation broke the security fences outside the president’s residence and took over the premises. Colombo’s air has been rife with rumours throughout the day and clear news has been hard to come by.
Things are changing rapidly in Sri Lanka and this is a developing story.
Tens of thousands of protestors arriving from the site of the GotaGoGama agitation broke the security fences outside the president’s residence and took over the premises – some posing for selfies in the presidential office, others in the swimming pool, and yet others seated on the comfortable sofas of the palace. But most were on the lookout for the president, who they announced is now fugitive.
Protestors were met with water-canon and teargas and dozens were injured, but the sound of gunshots reverberating through the air angered people further and their eventual taking over the premises of the presidential palace and the police began withdrawing.
Rajapaksa has not been seen thus far and there are various accounts of where he is hiding. Colombo’s air has been rife with rumours throughout the day and clear news has been hard to come by.
Some accounts suggest that he is inside the army headquarters. Videos are also circulating of military convoys being blocked by people on the highway. Some sources say that he is in a safe ship sailing towards the southern city of Hambantota, close to his ancestral home. A video of suitcases being loaded on a cruise ship are also circulating.
It is already being called the ‘July 9th Protests’.
48 decisive hours
Rajapaksa should have seen it coming when, on Thursday, the influential Buddhist monks from various chapters of Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy began a hunger strike or starve-to-death protest in Colombo. They demanded the Rajapaksa step down – for the first time in the past three turbulent months.
The monks have been his foremost supporters, but they eventually gauged the palpable anger among Sri Lankans over the monks’ support for Rajapaksa, whose Sinhala majoritarian politics had a special space among the Buddhist clergy. Together, the monks and the Rajapaksas have fanned hate politics against non-Sinhalas, mainly Muslims and Tamils in the island nation. The Bodu Bala Sena, an extreme nationalist Sinhalese Buddhist group known for its violence against Muslims in recent years has had Rajapaksa’s support.
A court order to stop the monks from protesting helped them retrieve some of their lost moral authority as a senior monk announced that it was their duty to protect their country.
“So do not bring these court orders and try to stop us,” the elder told court officials handing him the orders before news cameras.
Clearly, a staggering 57.4 per cent inflation rate and steeply increasing food prices have hit home.
Ranil holds cards close to his chest
Things started falling in place for the protestors since rumblings among a handful of lawmakers supporting the president became public and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe began discussions with several party leaders about stepping down. But Wickremesinghe soon changed track and spoke of a leadership vacuum if he did so as word of the President fleeing caught up – Sri Lanka’s Constitution provides for the prime minister taking over in the event of the president’s resignation.
But many law makers insist that the prime minister must resign and say that the Speaker of the country’s parliament to take charge.
Even railway employees who brought the railway system to a standstill saying, en masse, that they did not have fuel to arrive at their duty stations have suddenly come out and started the train services to ferry people from the countryside to Colombo.
This came together with a social media campaign asking the country’s defence forces to support the protests.
Image: Wikimedia / AntanO
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