A number of Sri Lankan cricket legends have come together to criticize Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government as the number of victims of political violence rose to eight amid a crippling economic crisis that has gripped the country for months.
Thousands of Sri Lankans have taken to the streets demanding the resignations of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who resigned as prime minister this week, due to a debt crisis that has caused shortages of fuel, food and other essentials. .
Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy after defaulting on $7bn of foreign loans it was due this year out of $25bn due by 2026. Sri Lanka’s total external debt stands at $51bn.
The protests, which have been largely peaceful, turned violent on Monday after pro-government supporters attacked a rally outside the prime minister’s office in the capital Colombo. The mob surrounded the protesters, beating them with steel bars and batons and destroying and setting fire to the premises.
When the police and army arrived, they reportedly allowed the Rajapaksa supporters to continue their attacks. Violence spread across the island nation as police responded with water cannons and tear gas.
Angry anti-government protesters attacked ruling party politicians, torched the homes of ministers and other pro-government MPs, as well as the home of Mahinda Rajapaksa in his Kurunegala constituency, Rajapaksa’s ancestral home on the outskirts of Colombo, and a boutique hotel owned by of one of his children.
According to the country’s Defense Ministry, eight people, including a lawmaker and two police officers, have been killed, while more than 200 people were injured in the carnage. More than 100 buildings and 60 vehicles were burned, he said.
Former Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara called the violence “despicable” and accused the government of backing it.
“Peaceful protesters demanding their basic needs and rights attacked by despicable thugs and thugs backed by government thugs and thugs. Disgusting. This is state-sponsored violence. Intentional and planned,” she wrote on Twitter.
Former captain and current consultant coach of the Sri Lanka national cricket team, Mahela Jayawardene, shared a video of a woman being attacked “in front of police officers” and lashed out at the ruling government.
In a subsequent tweet, he wrote: “Violence will not bring about the Change we all seek and the truly amazing discipline everyone has shown over the last 30 days. So please, let’s not let vested interests seize power from the people.”
Jayawardene also used the hashtag “GoGotaGo”, which has been the wake-up call for the Rajapaksa dynasty to resign collectively.
In another tweet, he said: “History has taught us lessons of civil war and mistrust between people through racial and religious disharmony… Also how it has been used as a weapon to further our own agendas… Divided We Fall and United We Stand Strong Always Think like Sri Lanka!!”
Wanindu Hasaranga, a member of the national team, wrote on Monday: “Cowardly and barbaric! Two words that sum up today’s attack on innocent and peaceful protesters in Sri Lanka.”
“I am disappointed to even think that we have such leadership in our country,” he added.
Veteran cricketer Roshan Mahanama joined the agitation at Galle Face in Colombo this week, urging protesters to show “opposition to the government in a peaceful manner”.
“Staying at home watching the country descend into chaos was not an option. As soon as possible, I walked to Galle Face from my home last night to stand in solidarity with fellow protesters and show my support for the fight against the corrupt and power-hungry leaders of the country…” he wrote.
In early April, former cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya joined the protest in Colombo. “It is unfortunate that people are going through this situation. They cannot survive like this and have started to protest. There is a gas shortage and there is no electricity supply for hours,” he said at the time.
Sri Lankan authorities deployed armored vehicles and troops on the streets of the capital on Wednesday, a day after the Defense Ministry ordered the armed forces to fire on anyone damaging public property or threatening life.
Kamal Gunaratne, a senior Defense Ministry official, denied the accusations of a military coup. “None of our officers have the desire to take over the government. It has never happened in our country and it is not easy to do it here,” said Mr. Gunaratne.
Following Monday’s violence, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family fled the official residence as thousands of protesters tried to enter. However, the president remained in his official residence guarded by the military and police.
New Delhi has denied claims that “certain political persons and their families” have fled to India. He also rejected speculation that India was sending troops to Colombo.
India on Tuesday assured Sri Lanka of its support, saying New Delhi has provided $3.5 billion in support to help it through the crisis, as well as sending essential items such as food and medicine.