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MP dies in stand-off with angry protesters as homes of Sri Lankan politicians set on fire in escalating violence

An MP in Sri Lanka’s ruling party has died after a stand-off with anti-government protesters and the homes of a number of other politicians have been set on fire as violence escalated in the country.

The prime minister has quit and his younger brother, who is the president, is also under pressure to go as the country grapples with its worst economic crisis in decades.

Mahinda Rajapaksa says he wants to help form an interim, unity government, and his resignation came after police used tear gas and a water cannon on his supporters who had attacked protesters outside the president and PM’s offices in the commercial capital Colombo.

At least nine people were taken to Colombo’s National Hospital for treatment relating to injuries or tear gas inhalation, according to a health official.

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As many as 150 people were wounded throughout the day, reports said.

It was the first time the opposing sides had clashed since an unprecedented wave of demonstrations began in late March.

MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala died after a stand-off with anti-government demonstrators in the town of Nittambuwa near Colombo, a police source told Reuters.

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At least three other people were injured and the area remained tense with dozens of protesters still at the site.

In Colombo, protesters hijacked a bus used to transport pro-government supporters, according to a witness, one of several incidents reported in the city.

There were also reports of multiple attacks on the houses and election offices of politicians. The residences of MPs Sanath Nishantha and Ramesh Pathirana were set ablaze.

A Sri Lankan government supporter carries a national flag after attacking the anti-government protesters outside president's office in Colombo
PIC:AP
Image:
A Sri Lankan government supporter carries a national flag after attacking anti-government protesters outside the president’s office in Colombo. Pic: AP

Pro-government supporters were attacked in at least four locations as they were returning from Colombo, it was reported.

And the houses of at least two mayors were also set on fire, according to police sources.

The prime minister’s supporters attacked protesters who had been demonstrating outside his official residence for weeks, hitting them with wooden and iron poles.

A riot police officer fires tear gas to chase back the supporters of Sri Lanka's ruling party during a clash with anti-government demonstrators, amid the country's economic crisis, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
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A police officer fires tear gas at supporters of Sri Lanka’s ruling party during a clash with anti-government demonstrators

They then marched to the president’s office, where they attacked protesters there and set their camps on fire. Police used tear gas and a water cannon at the protest site, but not forcefully enough to control the mob.

A nationwide curfew has been imposed, on top of the state of emergency that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared last week in the face of escalating protests.

A government spokesman said all cabinet members had stepped down as well as the PM.

Supporter of Sri Lanka's ruling party tugs a member of anti-government demonstrator by his shirt during a clash between the two groups, amid the country's economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
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A supporter of Sri Lanka’s ruling party tugs an anti-government demonstrator by his shirt

Read more:
How shortage of fuel and rising prices affect entire economy
Sri Lanka ‘risks running out of food and fuel’

The island nation of 22 million people has suffered prolonged power cuts and shortages of essentials, including fuel, cooking gas and medicines.

It is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans.

Hit hard by the pandemic, rising oil prices and tax cuts, Sri Lanka has as little as $50m (£40m) of useable foreign reserves, finance minister Ali Sabry said last week.

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Sri Lanka’s opposition leader attacked by mob

The government has approached the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, and has been holding a virtual summit with officials from the multilateral lender aimed at securing emergency assistance.

Long queues for cooking gas seen in recent days have frequently turned into impromptu protests as frustrated consumers blocked roads.

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Sri Lanka could descend into ‘anarchy’

Domestic energy companies said they were running low on stocks of liquid petroleum gas mainly used for cooking.

Sri Lanka needs at least 40,000 tonnes of gas each month, and the monthly import bill would be $40m (£32m) at current prices.

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