Sri Lanka bans former PM from leaving the country

A Sri Lankan court banned former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, his son and 15 allies from leaving the country on suspicion of inciting violence.

On May 9, a supporter of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa used a stick to attack peaceful anti-government protesters in central Colombo, instigating retaliatory violence that left nine dead and many property damaged. A judge in the capital Colombo today ordered police to investigate the attack and ordered former Prime Minister Rajapaksa, his son Namal and 15 allies to be banned from leaving the country to serve the investigation.

Government supporters hold a portrait of Mahinda Rajapaksa in front of the prime minister's residence in Colombo May 9.  Photo: AFP

Government supporters hold a portrait of Mahinda Rajapaksa in front of the prime minister’s residence in Colombo May 9. Picture: AFP

Victims of the May 9 violence said the former prime minister and his powerful aide brought 3,000 supporters into the capital and instigated attacks on peaceful protesters. At least 225 people were hospitalized, including Buddhist monks and Catholic priests. The violence unleashed a wave of retaliation across the country. Government opponents set fire to dozens of homes owned by Rajapaksa loyalists.

On the same day, Mr Rajapaksa, 76, resigned as prime minister and was evacuated by the armed forces to a naval barracks in the east of the island nation. His son Namal Rajapaksa, 36, who served as youth and sports minister, said the family has no intention of leaving the country.

Sri Lanka is in the middle of the worst economic crisis since independence. In April, the government declared bankruptcy and failed to pay its $51 billion in foreign debt. People lived for months with power outages, severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

The crisis began after the Covid-19 pandemic hit a major source of foreign currency and remittances, leaving the country with a shortage of foreign currency to pay off debt and forcing the government to ban the import of many goods, resulting in more severe shortages, high inflation and prolonged blackouts.

The protesters accused Sri Lankan leaders and officials of economic mismanagement. For more than a month they have been protesting to demand the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his younger brother.

The Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency on May 6th, authorizing the army to arrest and detain those who have caused unrest. On May 11, Sri Lanka Police were allowed to actively attack and use live ammunition to prevent “anarchy”.

Supporters of the Sri Lankan ruling party attack demonstrators

Police try to break up clashes between protesters May 9 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Video: AFP.

Hong Hanh (Corresponding AFP)