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Mahinda, allies banned from leaving
Published on: Friday, May 13, 2022
By: AFP
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Mahinda is currently holed up at a naval facility in Trincomalee.
COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan court on Thursday banned former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, his politician son Namal and 15 allies from leaving the country over violence against anti-government demonstrators.

The magistrate in capital Colombo ordered police to investigate Monday’s mob attacks on peaceful protesters, which led to retaliatory violence that claimed nine lives and caused widespread destruction.

A petition to the court had also asked for an arrest warrant against Rajapaksa and his associates, a court official told AFP.

“But the magistrate turned it down because police anyway have powers to detain any suspect,” the official added.

Victims of Monday’s violence say that Rajapaksa and key aides had bussed around 3,000 of their supporters into the capital and instigated them to attack peaceful protesters.

Gotabaya will give up most of his executive powers and set up a new cabinet this week.

The loyalist mob poured out of his residence and assaulted anti-government demonstrators with sticks and clubs. Buddhist monks and Catholic priests were among at least 225 people hospitalised after the attack.

Reprisals soon spread across the country, with dozens of homes of Rajapaksa loyalists set ablaze.

The premier resigned and had to be evacuated from his home by heavily armed troops.

The 76-year-old former leader is currently holed up at a naval facility in the east of the island nation in Trincomalee.

His former minister son Namal told AFP on Tuesday that the family had no intention of leaving the country.

Sri Lanka’s president was set to name a new premier to replace his brother Mahinda. In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stopped short of yielding to weeks of nationwide protests calling for him to resign over the country’s worst downturn since independence.

But in a bid to win over opposition lawmakers demanding he quit before agreeing to any new government, the 72-year-old pledged to give up most of his executive powers and set up a new cabinet this week.

The new premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has already served in the office five times.

“I will name a Prime Minister who will command a majority in parliament and the confidence of the people,” Rajapaksa said.

Security forces patrolling in armoured personnel carriers with orders to shoot looters on sight have largely restored order.

A curfew was lifted Thursday morning—only to be reimposed after a six-hour break allowing Sri Lanka’s 22 million people to stock up on essentials.

Sri Lankans have suffered months of severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines and long power cuts after the government, short on foreign currency to pay its debts, halted many imports.

The South Asian island nation’s central bank chief warned Wednesday that the economy will “collapse beyond redemption” unless a new government was urgently appointed.

The mooted new premier, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has already served in the office five times—but it remains unclear if he will be able to get any legislation through parliament.

Wickremesinghe, 73, is seen as a pro-West free-market reformist, potentially making bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and others smoother.

The main opposition SJB party was initially invited to lead a new government, but its leader Sajith Premadasa insisted that the president should first step down.

In recent days the party has split, with a dozen MPs from the SJB now pledging support to Wickremesinghe.

With many from Rajapaksa’s party having defected in recent months, no group in the 225-member assembly has an absolute majority, making parliamentary approval of the unity government’s legislation potentially tricky.

Rajapaksa was set to meet with party leaders on Thursday as more names have been suggested for the post of prime minister, an official close to the negotiations told AFP.

But Wickremesinghe has already been working closely with Rajapaksa to shake up the finance ministry and the central bank to make sweeping fiscal and monetary policy changes, the source said.

The central bank almost doubled key interest rates and announced a default on Sri Lanka’s $51-billion external debt as part of the policy shift, officials said.

Front-line opposition legislator Harin Fernando from the SJB said he decided to remain neutral because the party’s leader refused to form a government as long as Rajapaksa remained president.

“We can’t be imposing conditions that cannot be fully met. First, we must address the economic crisis. 

“We need at least $85 million a week to finance essential imports. We must collectively find a way to raise this money urgently,” Fernando said.

He said he expected a unity government to be formed on either Thursday or Friday. “We can’t wait any longer,” he added.

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