COLOMBO | Sri Lanka’s economy will “completely collapse” if a new government is not appointed urgently, the governor of the Central Bank warned on Wednesday, as thousands of soldiers patrolled the deserted streets of the capital Colombo to maintain order after two days of deadly clashes.
• Read also: Sri Lanka: protesters defy curfew, UN condemns “escalation of violence”
• Read also: [PHOTOS] Sri Lanka: shots fired from Prime Minister’s residence besieged by protesters
Since Monday, the violence accompanying the anti-government demonstrations has left nine dead and more than 225 injured, according to the police, in this island of 22 million inhabitants mired in the worst economic crisis in its history.
A curfew is in effect across the country and troops are instructed to shoot on sight anyone attacking property or committing acts of violence.
“It is no longer a question of spontaneous anger, but of organized violence,” a senior police official told AFP on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, all you could see were soldiers patrolling the deserted streets of Colombo. Only a few demonstrators defied the curfew by maintaining their camp in front of the offices of the presidency.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday called on Twitter “all Sri Lankans to join hands as one, to overcome economic, social and political challenges”.
The main opposition party, the SJB, has however reaffirmed that it will not take part in a government under its authority.
“The violence is provoked (by the authorities) in order to establish a military regime”, wrote on Twitter the leader of the opposition, Sajith Premadasa, demanding that the “rule of law” be “maintained by the constitution and not by WEAPONS”.
Sri Lanka’s top defense official, Kamal Gunaratne, has ruled out a military coup, despite the country’s political stalemate.
Mr. Gunaratne, Secretary of the Ministry of Defense and one of the main military leaders who won in 2009 against the separatist rebel movement of the Tamil Tigers, explained that he had asked the military to come in to reinforce the police because of the “dangerousness of the situation”.
“When there is a dangerous situation in the country, the powers are given to the military to resolve it,” he said. “Never think that we are trying to take over.”
For the Governor of the Central Bank, Nandalal Weerasinghe, this situation is untenable.
“If there is no government in the next two days, the economy will collapse and no one can save it,” he warned. “I will resign if there is no immediate action to form a government.”
The resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa – the president’s brother – on Monday as prime minister without being replaced has created a power vacuum, the governor argued, adding that the ensuing violence has derailed his recovery plans.
After a luxury hotel owned by a member of the Rajapaksa clan in the south of the country was set on fire late Tuesday night, police fired in several places in the air to disperse crowds who were burning vehicles.
The island’s population is overwhelmed by months of power cuts and severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine. Peaceful protests have been calling for the resignation of President Rajapaksa for weeks.
But the latter, who enjoys extensive powers and command of the security forces, remained in office.
Supporters of the government, sent from the provinces to Colombo on Monday and galvanized by the prime minister, set fire to the powder by attacking the anti-Rajapaksa demonstrators. The attack led to the resignation of the head of government, also leader of the Rajapaksa clan, a few hours later.
Shortly before dawn on Tuesday, he had to be exfiltrated by the army from his official residence, besieged in Colombo by an angry mob.
This resignation is “an important event”, said Kaushalya Fernando, actress and human rights activist. But “that is not enough”, she insisted, adding: “We want the whole Rajapaksa clan to leave, they are so corrupt”.
According to Chandana Aluthge, professor of economics at the University of Colombo, the population is “fed up” and no longer has the luxury of relying on the democratic process.
Echoing calls from the United Nations and the European Union, the United States expressed concern about the escalation of violence and the deployment of the army.
“Peaceful protesters should never be subjected to violence or intimidation,” Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, said on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka, in default since April 12 on its external debt, estimated at 51 billion dollars, is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a possible bailout.
“We are closely following developments in Sri Lanka and are concerned about the rise in social tensions and violence,” said Masahiro Nozaki, IMF mission chief in Sri Lanka.