Sri Lanka’s economy will “collapse” unless a new government is urgently appointed, the central bank chief warned on Wednesday as security forces took to the streets to restore order following the violent violence.
Police say nine people have been killed since Monday, when frustration over a terrible economic crisis erupted into clashes between supporters and opponents of President Gatabaya Rajapaksa, with more than 200 injured.
Opposition parties rejected Rajapaksa’s attempts to form a unity government to resolve the political stalemate and demanded his resignation instead.
Central Bank Governor Nandalal Virasinghe said it was important for the new administration to take responsibility by Friday, otherwise the country would suffer a catastrophe.
“The economy will collapse completely and no one will be able to save it,” he told reporters.
“The country was rapidly coming down when I took office a little over a month ago. I thought we could press the brakes, but with the events of Monday, the brakes no longer work. “
Shortly after taking office as head of the bank in April, Virasinghe announced a default on Sri Lanka’s $ 51 billion foreign debt, saying the country had no money to pay off creditors.
He said political stability is vital to the reforms needed to address Sri Lanka’s debt crisis and the acute shortage of foreign currency for imports of basic necessities.
Security forces largely contained the riots after they were deployed to secure a nationwide curfew with orders to “shoot in the eye” of anyone involved in looting or violence.
“If the situation is not brought under control, complete anarchy could ensue,” a high-ranking security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
– Uninhabited streets –
The capital Colombo was almost deserted on Wednesday, except for soldiers standing at checkpoints, next to charred remains of buses that were set on fire by anti-government crowds.
Sri Lanka’s military chief spoke at a news conference to refute allegations of an impending coup.
“Never think that we are trying to seize power,” said Kamal Gunaratne, secretary of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense.
“The military has no such intentions.”
A small crowd continued to challenge the curfew near the president’s office on the waterfront, where a protest camp had been holding a vigil for the past month, urging him to resign.
“We want the whole Rajapaksa clan to get out because they are so corrupt. They ate Sri Lanka like a fruit-eating caterpillar, ”Causal Fernando’s activist told AFP.
On Twitter, Rajapaksa on Wednesday called on “all Sri Lankans to join hands to overcome economic, social and political challenges.”
But the main opposition SJB party has reiterated that it will not be part of any government whose president remains Rajapaksa, even after his brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister on Monday.
– Turning point –
Residents of Sri Lanka have been suffering from a shortage of basic necessities, fuel and medicine for months in the face of the island’s worst economic downturn since gaining independence in 1948.
On Monday, the crisis entered a darker phase when government supporters with sticks and truncheons attacked protesters who had been protesting peacefully for weeks demanding the president’s resignation.
The mob then retaliated across the country, setting fire to dozens of homes of ruling party politicians.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was to be rescued during a pre-dawn military operation on Tuesday and taken to a naval shipyard for security after protesters tried to break into his official residence.
Reiterating the head of the UN Human Rights and the European Union, the United States on Tuesday said it was concerned about both violence and the deployment of troops.
“We emphasize that peaceful demonstrators should never be subjected to violence or intimidation by the military or civilian forces,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
India, meanwhile, has been forced to refute rumors on social media – some using old images of Mahinda boarding a helicopter – that she is helping members of the Rajapaksa family escape.
“India’s High Commission would like to categorically refute speculative reports in the media and social media that India is sending troops to Sri Lanka,” the statement said.
Due to the pandemic torpedoing vital tourism revenues, Sri Lanka last month disagreed with its external debt, part of which stemmed from Rajapaksa’s futility projects built on Chinese loans.
The International Monetary Fund this week launched a “virtual mission” to negotiate staff-level assistance for possible assistance.
The head of the IMF mission, Masahira Nozaki, said the lender was committed to being “fully prepared for policy discussions once a new government is formed.”