100s of titles, one news app for just $10 a month.
Dive Deeper:
Sri Lanka crisis | Indian High Commission rejects reports of Mahinda Rajapaksa and family fleeing to India
The whereabouts of Mahinda Rajapaksa is being speculated since his resignation on May 9.
The meeting, then the mob. A 'turning point' in Sri Lankan crisis
On Monday morning, hundreds of supporters gathered at the prime minister's official residence in Sri Lanka's commercial capital of Colombo…
Sri Lanka president warns of racial tensions amid economic crisis
Sri Lanka has moved Mahinda Rajapaksa to a naval base for his safety after he quit two days ago as…
Sri Lanka PM Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns as crisis worsens
The resignation comes hours after PM’s supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators in the capital Colombo.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Sri Lanka president warns of ‘racial disharmony’, curfew extended
Sporadic violence and arson continues on island, with security forces ordered to shoot people damaging public property.
Sri Lanka names new PM in bid to address growing crisis
Sri Lanka appointed a new prime minister on Thursday, as its embattled president seeks a way out of the country's…
Get all your news in one place
Latest Politics news:
Below the Line: A Facebook executive explains the last-minute election battle on social media – podcast
What do One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and Labor’s Tanya Plibersek have in common? They are both winning the battle for…
Read news from The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more, with one subscription
Learn More
No plans to shut down ‘disastrous’ COVIDSafe app
There are no plans to switch off the controversial COVIDSafe app despite contact tracing no longer taking place in Australia…
Elections used to be about costings. Here's what's changed
The last week of campaigns used to be frantic, behind the scenes. In public, right up until the final week,…
‘Respect and expect’: Coalition to cut public service funding
Scott Morrison will order “well paid” public servant bosses to make $2.7 billion in cuts to help the government claw…
Why Morrison's ‘can-do’ capitalism and conservative masculinity may not be cutting through anymore
Scott Morrison’s election strategy was clear at the end of last year. As borders were opened up and restrictions eased,…
From analysis to good news, read the world’s best news in one place
Paul Bongiorno: Albanese poised for victory as Morrison struggles to save himself
Scott Morrison may be praying for a second miracle win, but last week he conceded Australians were looking for a…
NSW prepares decade-long industry policy blueprint
The New South Wales Government is rethinking its Industry policy to account for “transformative forces” like decarbonisation, digitisation, and shifting…

Sri Lanka's ruling family in fight for survival as crisis worsens

By Alasdair Pal and Uditha Jayasinghe
FILE PHOTO: A damaged bust of D.A Rajapaksa, father of former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, is pictured at a museum, following violent clashes between pro and anti-government factions and police, in Weeraketiya, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal/File Photo

His beloved villa has been daubed in graffiti by protesters, and a museum dedicated to his father ransacked. Now former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is in hiding in a heavily fortified military base, protected by the armed forces.

The reversal of fortunes for the island nation's most powerful politician for decades has been giddying. A scion of the Rajapaksa family beloved by many Sri Lankans for ending a protracted civil war, the 76-year-old is now a pariah.

FILE PHOTO: Premaratne Prathapasinghe, a 62-year-old shopkeeper who rented a store from a local politician linked to former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, shows the damage at his shop, following violent clashes between pro and anti-government factions and police, in Weeraketiya, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal./File Photo

An economic crisis, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic mismanagement, has drained the country of money to pay for fuel, medicine and other vital supplies, meaning lengthy blackouts and long queues for gasoline. Food prices are soaring.

Weeks of largely peaceful demonstrations demanding the prime minister and his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, stand down, turned violent on Monday in the deadliest unrest so far - nine people were killed and over 300 injured.

The turmoil is the worst to hit Sri Lanka since the war ended in 2009. The small southern town of Weeraketiya, where Mahinda liked to stay while visiting the family stronghold of Hambantota district, was not spared.

FILE PHOTO: Graffiti written by anti-government factions is pictured on a vehicle, at a house belonging to the former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's family, following violent clashes between pro and anti-government factions and police, in Weeraketiya, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal/File Photo

Shortly after the prime minister resigned on Monday, hundreds of people attacked a small group of police officers guarding his modest villa, vandalising an outhouse containing family memorabilia and sports trophies.

At the main house, graffiti reading "Gota Go Home" - a rallying cry of anti-government protests across the country - has been sprayed on the walls in red.

In Mahinda's bedroom, windows were smashed but otherwise it looked untouched: television remotes were within reach of a comfortable armchair and a book on Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan lay nearby.

Graffiti written by anti-government faction is pictured at a house belonging to the former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's family, following violent clashes between pro and anti-government factions and police, in Weeraketiya, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal

According to interviews with half a dozen eyewitnesses and police officers, the villa was the first stop on a night of vandalism targeting Rajapaksa properties. No family members were at the residences when they were attacked.

"I have never seen anything like it," a member of the family's security detail said, adding that his wounded colleagues did not dare go to hospital to be treated as they feared doctors and nurses would turn against them.

FUTURE IN QUESTION

Broken glass and a damaged bust of D.A Rajapaksa, father of former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, is pictured at a museum, following violent clashes between pro and anti-government factions and police, in Weeraketiya, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal

The worst financial crisis since Sri Lanka's independence in 1948 has thrown the future of the Rajapaksas into doubt. A family of rural landowners based in Hambantotoa district, the fortunes of the Rajapaksas started flourishing when Mahinda became prime minister in 2004.

After he won the presidential election in 2005, Mahinda and Gotabaya, who defence secretary at the time, ended the civil war with Tamil separatists in the north and east of the country with a brutal government offensive that killed tens of thousands of people.

Mahinda was denied a third term as president in 2015, but the family came back to power in the 2019 presidential election, this time with Gotabaya at the helm.

A damaged house belonging to a ruling party lawmaker is pictured, following violent clashes between pro and anti-government factions and police, in Weeraketiya, Sri Lanka, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Alasdair Pal

Two of the nine deaths across the country in Monday's violence occurred in Weeraketiya, after a crowd attacked the offices of a local lawmaker and his security detail fired on them in response, according to police.

Squads of soldiers and police, who have been given the authority to shoot to prevent looting and damage to public property and when lives are threatened, now guard the vandalised sites.

From the villa, the group proceeded to a museum dedicated to Gotabaya and Mahinda's late father, parliamentarian D.A. Rajapaksa, where they demolished exhibits and torched the interior.

Little was left when Reuters visited on Wednesday except a golden bust of their father face down on the blackened floor. Houses and shops linked to ruling party lawmakers were also heavily damaged.

Some locals continue to support the Rajapaksa brothers, who are seen as heroes among the island's Sinhalese Buddhist majority for snuffing out the Tamil insurgency.

Ratnaweera Nandasiri, a 67-year-old paraplegic storekeeper and longtime supporter of the Rajapaksas, said they had provided him with a disability allowance that helped him survive during the pandemic.

On Tuesday evening, he watched as a separate group of around 20 men carrying iron bars destroyed a statue of D.A. Rajapaksa in the nearby town of Tangalle.

From his shop backing on to the memorial garden, he said he remonstrated with the men.

"This is the father of the men that ended the war," he told them.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Uditha Jayasinghe in Weeraketiya; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

What is inkl?
The world’s most important news, from 100+ trusted global sources, in one place.
Morning Edition
Your daily
news overview

Morning Edition ensures you start your day well informed.

No paywalls, no clickbait, no ads
Enjoy beautiful reading

Content is only half the story. The world's best news experience is free from distraction: ad-free, clickbait-free, and beautifully designed.

Expert Curation
The news you need to know

Stories are ranked by proprietary algorithms based on importance and curated by real news journalists to ensure that you receive the most important stories as they break.

Dive Deeper:
Sri Lanka crisis | Indian High Commission rejects reports of Mahinda Rajapaksa and family fleeing to India
The whereabouts of Mahinda Rajapaksa is being speculated since his resignation on May 9.
The meeting, then the mob. A 'turning point' in Sri Lankan crisis
On Monday morning, hundreds of supporters gathered at the prime minister's official residence in Sri Lanka's commercial capital of Colombo…
Sri Lanka president warns of racial tensions amid economic crisis
Sri Lanka has moved Mahinda Rajapaksa to a naval base for his safety after he quit two days ago as…
Sri Lanka PM Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns as crisis worsens
The resignation comes hours after PM’s supporters attacked anti-government demonstrators in the capital Colombo.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Sri Lanka president warns of ‘racial disharmony’, curfew extended
Sporadic violence and arson continues on island, with security forces ordered to shoot people damaging public property.
Sri Lanka names new PM in bid to address growing crisis
Sri Lanka appointed a new prime minister on Thursday, as its embattled president seeks a way out of the country's…
Get all your news in one place