Sri Lankan president urges people to stop ‘violence and acts of revenge’

COLOMBO: Embattled Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday urged people to stop “violence and acts of revenge” against fellow citizens and vowed to address the political and economic crisis facing the nation. “All efforts will be made to restore political stability through consensus, within constitutional mandate & to resolve economic crisis,” he tweeted in his first comments since the outbreak of the violence that saw attacks on the homes of several former ministers and politicians.
Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was Sri Lanka’s president from 1994 to 2005, warned against violence, tweeting that “saboteurs may be used to incite violence in order to pave the way for military rule”. President Rajapaksa is a former military officer who has loyalists within the forces. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the authorities in Sri Lanka to prevent further violence, and urged dialogue.
In Colombo, protests continued on Tuesday despite the curfew. A crowd attacked and set fire to a vehicle carrying Colombo’s most senior policeman. Officers fired warning shots and sent in reinforcements to rescue senior deputy inspector-general Deshabandu Tennakoon, who was rushed to hospital but later released after treatment. A luxury hotel said to belong to a Rajapaksa relative was set on fire on Tuesday evening on the edge of the Sinharaja rainforest. Police shot into the air at two locations to disperse mobs trying to burn vehicles.
A protester, Chamal Polwattage, said he expected demonstrations to swell again and vowed they would not leave “until the president goes”. “People are angry about the attacks launched against us yesterday,” the 25-year-old said. “Unless President Rajapaksa steps down, no one — whether the masses in the streets or key political stakeholders — will be appeased,” analyst Michael Kugelman from the Wilson Center. Some experts said that if the president decides to step down in the face of growing pressure, the Constitution outlines provisions for parliament to vote in a new leader. “So, there will not be a power vacuum. There are also provisions for parliamentarians to appoint an interim government,” said Bhavani Fonseka, a researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives thinktank.
The Joint Apparel Association Forum, which represents Sri Lanka’s economically vital apparel industry, appealed for political stability. “It is critical that a new government be appointed urgently to fill the current political vacuum.”

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