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Sri Lanka protesters call for new government as country plunges further into chaos

Security personnel walk past a burned vehicle along a road, a day after they were torched by protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 10. (Photo by AFP)

Protesters and a key trade group in Sri Lanka called for a new government to take control of the crisis-hit country on Tuesday while the president asked for calm following clashes that claimed eight lives and prompted his brother to quit as prime minister.

Sri Lanka has been suffering its worst economic crisis in history, with a severe shortage of foreign exchange stalling essential imports, including drugs and fuel.

For months, its tottering economy has been largely supported by India, which has provided assistance of more than $3.5 billion as the country began much-delayed talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package and also sought help from China.

China and India have long jostled for influence over Sri Lanka, a strategically located island situated off the southern tip of India with a population of 22 million people.

But the public's patience ran out on Monday after ruling party supporters attacked an anti-government protest camp in the commercial capital Colombo, triggering a bout of clashes in which eight people died and more than 200 were injured.

Hours after the violence erupted, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned in the hope of forming a unity government and the police imposed a nationwide curfew until 7 a.m. on Wednesday. The country's Cabinet stepped down.

Protesters angered by persistent shortages of fuel, cooking gas and electricity defied the curfew to attack government figures, setting ablaze homes, shops and businesses belonging to ruling party lawmakers and provincial politicians.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former prime minister's younger brother, urged an end to the violence and his government outlined broad powers for the military and police to detain and question people without arrest warrants.

"All efforts will be made to restore political stability through consensus, within constitutional mandate & to resolve economic crisis," the president said in a tweet.

IMF Sri Lanka mission chief Masahiro Nozaki said that virtual technical talks with Sri Lankan officials over a loan package that started on Monday would continue "so as to be fully prepared for policy discussions once a new government has been formed."

Nozaki said in a statement that he was concerned about rising violence in the island country but remained "committed to [sic] assist Sri Lanka in line with the IMF’s policies."

(Source: Reuters)


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