Sri Lanka’s beleaguered president has refused to step down, amidst rumours the country’s all-powerful military could be preparing to overthrow him.
In a televised address to the nation, his first since mass protests swept across the nation in April over an economic crisis that has brought Sri Lanka close to collapse, a forthright Gotabaya Rajapaksa also announced he would appoint a new prime minister by Sunday.
“This week I will appoint a prime minister and cabinet that can command a majority in parliament and can gain the confidence of the people of the country,” said Mr Rajapaksa.
Brother Mahinda resigned on Monday after anti-government protesters torched the homes of more than 40 ruling party politicians in retribution for a pro-Rajapaksa mob attacking peaceful demonstrators in Colombo, injuring over 200 people.
“No one can justify the violent acts orchestrated on May 9 and during the past few days,” added Mr Rajapaksa, who said “relevant authorities” would take action against the anti-government protesters behind the arson.
On Wednesday, opposition politicians alleged that the country’s feared military could be preparing to overthrow Mr Rajapaksa, as the country endures its third day of curfew.
Many noted that the number of armoured vehicles and troops deployed onto the streets of major cities, including the capital, Colombo, increased significantly on Wednesday.
The accusations were dismissed on Wednesday afternoon by the Sri Lankan army: “When there is a dangerous situation in the country, powers are given to the military to deal with it,” said Kamal Gunaratne, the secretary of Sri Lanka’s defence ministry.
“Don’t ever think that we are trying to capture power,” he added, “The military has no such intentions.”
Rocked by violence
There have been three attempted military coups in Sri Lanka since the country gained independence in 1948. The country also witnessed a brutal 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 and claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.
On Tuesday night, the country was again rocked by renewed violence as a pro-Rajapaksa mob, armed with sharp weapons, attacked members of the country’s Muslim minority in the city of Negombo, seriously injuring four people.
The attack is believed to be an attempt by Mr Rajapaksa and his allies to stir up communal tension in Sri Lanka and divert anti-government protesters, who have angrily taken to the streets over surging food, fuel and medicine prices.
So far, his brother Mahinda, the former prime minister, who is now sheltering in a naval base in the city of Trincomalee, and the country’s entire cabinet have been forced to resign under public pressure. Tens of thousands of Sri Lankans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds have occupied Galle Face in the city of Colombo since April 9.
And, on Wednesday, the new governor of Sri Lanka’s central bank, Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe, who was appointed in April, warned that he would quit in two weeks' time, unless Mr Rajapaksa appointed a new government by Friday.
“If there is no government in the next two days, the economy will completely collapse and no one will be able to save it,” said Dr Weerasinghe.
Sri Lanka’s largest medical body also warned that nationwide shortages of drugs and medical equipment would reach critical levels this week, in the absence of a government.
Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security