Sri Lankan police have arrested two ruling party lawmakers for allegedly instigating mob violence that plunged the country into days of unrest and left nine dead last week, authorities said Wednesday.
The members of parliament, both from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party, were questioned by criminal investigators on Tuesday night and detained overnight, said a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“There is direct evidence against the two deputies and that is why they were arrested,” the official said.
Sanath Nishantha and Milan Jayathilake were among 22 politicians, including former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his son Namal, whose passports were seized last week following allegations that they instigated the violence.
On May 9, thousands of ruling party supporters bused into the capital attacked a peaceful demonstration by anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa over an economic crisis that has brought the country to a standstill.
Then-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s older brother, resigned shortly after the mob attack sparked retaliatory violence and arson, with more than 70 homes of ruling party leaders destroyed.
More than 225 people were hospitalized for the violence, according to health officials.
Police say they have arrested around 500 people in connection with the violence and retaliation.
Thousands continue to demonstrate outside the president’s waterfront office in Colombo, demanding his resignation due to an economic crisis that has resulted in severe shortages of food, fuel and essential medicine.
The shortage has been accompanied by record inflation and prolonged blackouts, bringing severe hardship to Sri Lankans, who are experiencing the country’s worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed prime minister last week.
Wickremesinghe has the crucial support of the two main opposition parties to form a “unity government” aimed at leading the country out of crisis, but he has yet to form a full cabinet.
Four ministers were appointed on Saturday. Official sources said Wickremesinghe was still in talks with potential coalition partners to finalize his cabinet.
The prime minister was also expected to take over the financial portfolio crucial to ongoing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.
Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the energy crisis was worse than initially feared.
“We will not be able to supply gasoline in the next two days and I call on motorists not to queue,” Wijesekera told parliament.
He said the government managed to raise $53 million for a gasoline tanker already in Colombo port and awaiting full payment before unloading.
“It will be Saturday or Sunday before we can distribute gasoline, but we have a reserve for essential services like ambulances,” Wijesekera said.
The currency crisis has also caused shortages of 14 essential medicines, including rabies vaccines.