Sri Lanka crisis: Top lawyers’ body questions Rajapaksa’s ability to remain in power
Colombo, July 9: Sri Lanka's influential lawyers' body on Saturday questioned embattled president Gotabaya Rajapaksa's ability to function and remain in power after thousands of irate anti-government protesters stormed into his official residence in central Colombo, demanding his resignation over the island nation's worst economic crisis in recent memory.
At least 30 people, including two policemen, were injured in clashes between security personnel and protesters - some of them holding Sri Lankan flags and helmets. Rajapaksa, who was facing calls for resignation since March, was using the President's House as his residence and office since protesters came to occupy the entrance to his office early April.
"The Bar Association of Sri Lanka calls upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to consider whether he can continue to fulfill his obligations and the powers and duties as the President of Sri Lanka any longer," web portal Lanka First reported, citing the Bar Association's statement on Saturday.
According to sources, the President had been moved out of his residence on Friday, in anticipation of Saturday's protests. His whereabouts was unknown as protesters have now occupied both his office and official residence.
A group of his own parliamentarians have addressed a letter to him urging him to step down and appoint a new Prime Minister and an all-party government. The Executive Committee of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) calls upon the Prime Minister, Speaker, Cabinet of Ministers, and Members of Parliament to immediately ensure that the political stability of the nation is secured forthwith, it said.
"We call upon the police and the armed forces to ensure that no further harm is caused to the people who are engaged in the protest," it said. The lawyers' body also urged the public to refrain from damaging public properties, especially the Presidential Secretariat and the President's House.
"We call upon the members of the public to protect public property - especially the Presidential Secretariat and the President's House which are historical sites in Sri Lanka and to ensure that no harm is caused to any person," it added.
According to a viral video on social media, a VIP motorcade has reached the Colombo international airport where a SriLanka Airlines aircraft was parked. Amid the turmoil, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday summoned an emergency meeting of all political parties and also requested the speaker to summon parliament, a statement from his office said.
The anti-government protests in April forced the resignation of prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of President Rajapaksa, in May. Earlier on Saturday, police had earlier lifted the curfew imposed in seven divisions in the country's Western Province, including Colombo, ahead of the planned anti-government protests, after coming under sustained pressure from top lawyers' associations, human rights groups, and political parties.
The curfew was imposed in seven police divisions in the Western Province, which included Negombo, Kelaniya, Nugegoda, Mount Lavinia, Colombo North, Colombo South, and Colombo Central with effect from 9 pm on Friday night until further notice.
Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials.