Sri Lankan riot: Protesters set PM's house on fire & swim in president's private pool

The president is resigning, while the PM has offered to resign.

Tan Min-Wei | July 10, 2022, 12:41 PM

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On July 9, 2022 Sri Lankan protesters took to the streets in massive numbers, surrounding the presidential palace and the offices, forcing Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee.

The Sri Lankan Speaker of Parliament has now said that Gotabaya will step down on July 13.

They also broke into the private home of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and set it on fire.

Wickremesinghe has offered to quit amid the protests.

Protesters' "pool party"

Plans have been in place for a massive protest outside the Presidential Palace on July 9, as well as the Presidential Office where a large sit-in protest has been in place for months.

The government attempted to head this off by imposing a curfew on July 8, but were unsuccessful from stopping large numbers of people gathering, including large numbers who came into the capital Colombo from surrounding areas.

Police have reportedly used tear gas to try to keep protesters at bay, but were unable to stop them from invading the Presidential Palace, as reported by the BBC.

There have been numerous videos and pictures on social media showing protesters swimming in the Presidential Palace’s swimming pool, as well as going through the residential areas.

Reuters reports defence ministry sources saying Gotabaya was evacuated from the palace on July 8 in anticipation of these protest, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

Protesters, gathered in tens of thousands, also managed to break through the police blockade around the Presidential Offices in dramatic scenes.

It should be noted that protest were not confined to Colombo.

But as the evening set in, things became more violent as protesters invaded the PM's house and burnt it down.

This came after Wickremesinghe had offered to resign in order to make way for an all-party government earlier in the day, according to Reuters.

Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena will take over as interim PM.

Abeywardena also announced that President Gotabaya had agreed to step down on July 13.


Anger over economic crisis

Sri Lanka, like much of the world, is going through a period of fuel and food price inflation, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the crisis In Ukraine.

But there is one unique aspect of the situation in Sri Lanka, known locally as Aragalaya or “Struggle”, that sets it apart.

The Institute of Development Studies explains how Sri Lanka’s situation stems from economic decisions made by the government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

In 2019, his newly elected government cut tax rates significantly, while continuing to spend and borrow heavily, even when its interest rates increased.

By early 2022, the government had "basically given away virtually all foreign exchange they had."

This has led to a gradually worsening economic situation in Sri Lanka.

By April 2022, the country was experiencing skyrocketing prices for food, fuels, and medicines as it ran out of foreign currency to pay for them.

Gotabaya also forced rice farmers to change to organic fertilisers from chemical ones, despite not having ensured a sufficient supply.

Sri Lanka is traditionally an exporter of rice, but now import rice from India in order to try to counter its rising cost.

Blackouts and day long queues

This led to an expanding series of scheduled blackouts in the country, some for as long as 18 hours a day, as well as long queues at petrol stations for fuel.

Sri Lankans, blaming the government for economic mismanagement, took to the streets in tens of thousands across Sri Lanka, demanding that the government step down in April.

Those protests would result in Gotabaya’s two brothers, finance minister Basil, and Prime Minister Mahinda, stepping down.

The current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed to take up the role in May 2022, having been Prime Minister five times before.

Gotabaya, for his part, refused to step down, and was in May able to resist calls for a vote of no confidence, and kept his seat.

Despite this, the economic situation in Sri Lanka has not improved.

While Gotabaya’s government has been attempting to negotiate some debt relief from the International Monetary Fund, having received a bailout relief  from India. In May 2020, Sri Lanka would default on its debt.

However, Sri Lankans are still queuing up for hours, some for days, for petrol.

Recently, the government has instituted a fuel ban preventing private citizens from buying petrol, reserving current supplies for essential services.

Top image via RJ Saksi & PRADEEP/Twitter