Sri Lankan streets calm as curfew resumes

STORY: Businesses and market stalls rapidly shut up shop in Sri Lanka's main city Colombo on Thursday (May 12), as a curfew was reimposed following a few hours of respite.

Local sellers say they are struggling to stay afloat due to loss of income, as the island nation battles its worst economic crisis since independence.

"I run a vegetable business. What do we do after the curfew is reimposed? I borrowed money for this business. How do I repay that? I have to pay for the cart. I have to take care of the family. These people are doing things without thinking."

Restrictions were imposed after violent clashes erupted on Monday (May 9), when supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa attacked an anti-government protest camp in the commercial capital.

He then quit and went into hiding, and days of reprisals against authority figures aligned to the powerful Rajapaksa clan followed.

Although there was an air of calm earlier on Thursday, queues of vehicles stretched along the streets and supermarkets heaved.

Many racing to get fuel and supplies before returning to their hometowns during the brief relaxation of curfew.

"We have hit the bottom economically. We earn a living from money made by driving this Tuk Tuk. By the time I queue up for fuel and manage to get any petrol, the curfew will be imposed – I don’t have enough time to do my job. I will have to go home without money.”

Police said several people were killed and over 300 injured in the days of clashes.

Security forces have also been ordered to shoot to prevent any violence and looting.

Sri Lanka has been hit hard by the pandemic, rising oil prices and tax cuts by the populist Rajapaksa government.

The reversal of fortunes for Mahinda Rajapaksa in particular, who has been Sri Lanka's most influential politician for decades, has been staggering.

Once beloved by many for ending a protracted civil war, he is now considered a pariah.

In recent days, a villa Rajapaksa owns in a southern town has been vandalized, and a museum dedicated to his father was ransacked.

His office in Colombo lies trashed and he is now holed up in a heavily fortified military base.

The president and Mahinda Rajapaksa's younger brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on Thursday appointed a new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, himself a former prime minister, in hopes of quelling the worsening civil unrest.

He has repeatedly called for a unity government to find a way out of the crisis.

But opposition leaders say they will not serve until he resigns, too.

Protesters have also vowed to keep up the pressure until he quits.

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