Outgoing Sri Lankan PM evacuated by troops

by AFP

COLOMBO – Heavily armed troops evacuated outgoing Sri Lankan prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (picture) from his official residence in Colombo on Tuesday after thousands of protesters breached the main gate.

Protesters who forced their way into the capital’s “Temple Trees” residence then attempted to storm the main two-storey building where Rajapaksa was holed up with his immediate family.

“After a pre-dawn operation, the former PM and his family were evacuated to safety by the army,” a top security official told AFP. “At least 10 petrol bombs were thrown into the compound.”

Rajapaksa’s evacuation to an undisclosed location followed a day of violent protests in which five people, including a lawmaker, were killed and nearly 200 wounded.

The security official said police kept up a barrage of tear gas and fired warning shots in the air to hold back mobs at all three entrances to the colonial-era building, a key symbol of state power.

Dozens of homes of top Rajapaksa loyalists were torched elsewhere in the curfew-bound country, which has been under a state of emergency since Friday.

The emergency order from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the outgoing premier’s younger brother, gave sweeping powers to the military as protests demanding the duo’s resignation escalated over the country’s worst-ever economic crisis.

Protestors and Sri Lankan religious leaders blamed the former prime minister for instigating the family’s supporters to attack unarmed protestors on Monday, sparking retaliatory attacks.