Colombo, Sri Lanka
Some 13 years after the end of a civil war that saw 100,000 deaths, Sri Lanka is once again on the cusp of serious violence. Earlier today, the police opened fire on protesters in the town of Rambukkana. One person has died and at least ten people are said to be in critical condition. It’s the first use of deadly force against demonstrators who seem to have filled the entire island in recent weeks. Grainy footage shows half-conscious bodies being carried into hospital, bullet casings littering the quiet palm-lined streets.
This was meant to be a time of celebration. Buddhists are marking the new year while the country’s Muslim minority observe Ramadan. Instead, the country has been brought to a standstill by nationwide protests demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign amid a crippling economic crisis.
Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, is now a ghost town. The savings of the country’s burgeoning middle classes have become worthless: the Sri Lankan Rupee is now the world’s worst-performing currency. India’s southern neighbour owes international lenders more than £21 billion, with just £1.7 billion in reserves. Shops and restaurants are closed and armed police patrol the streets. The price of vegetables has increased fivefold since 2021, while the cost of rice has doubled. Many residents say they are unable to eat more than one meal a day.
Rajapaksa, a Sinhalese Buddhist, was elected President in 2019 following the Easter Sunday terror attacks. To many Sri Lankans – particularly the country’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority, around 70 per cent of the population – he seemed the obvious choice to restore law and order, having served as defence secretary during the civil war. He is credited with bringing an end to the 26-year conflict, but not without allegedly committing an array of gross human rights abuses against Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority.