The ongoing violent unrest in Sri Lanka took a more dramatic turn on Tuesday with troops having to rescue outgoing prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – who resigned on Monday – from his official residence in the capital Colombo after protesters tried to breach the house.
In a bid to control the situation, the government has given emergency powers to its military and police to detain people without warrants, and shoot those who plunder public property or cause personal harm, local media reports.
The order comes after a day of clashes that killed seven people and injured more than 200, in violence that prompted Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign.
Pro and anti-government protesters clashed throughout Monday and Tuesday as homes and properties of ruling party lawmakers were targeted by anti-government demonstrators, report Reuters and The Guardian.
The clashes came after a day of fast-moving events in the island nation, which has faced months of street protests as mismanagement of government finances lead to shortages of food and fuel and Asia's fastest inflation.
Earlier on Monday, government supporters clashed with Rajapaksas' opponents who camped out in downtown Colombo for weeks to demand his resignation.
The violence has left President Gotabaya Rajapaksa more isolated, making ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency funds to buy food and fuel difficult, reports Bloomberg. In addition, the latest attacks on politicians will raise the stakes for anyone who might join a new cabinet appointed by the president.
Detain people without warrants
The government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the younger brother of the prime minister, outlined broad powers for the military and police on Tuesday to detain and question people without arrest warrants, reports Reuters.
The military can detain people for up to 24 hours before handing them over to police, while private properties can be searched by force, including private vehicles, the government said in a gazette notification on Tuesday.
"Any person arrested by a police officer shall be taken to the nearest police station," it said, fixing a 24-hour deadline for the armed forces to do the same.
Some analysts expressed concern over the potential for abuse of the emergency measures.
"In a situation where there is both a state of emergency and curfew, who can monitor to ensure these regulations are not abused?" said Bhavani Fonseka, of the Centre for Policy Alternatives think tank based in Colombo.
The president had already declared a state of emergency on Friday as protests escalated.
Day of violence
Hundreds of anti-government protesters defied a nationwide curfew, gathering in the streets of Colombo and shouting slogans outside the office of the president on Tuesday.
According to local media reports, some protesters have also gathered outside a naval base in the northeastern town of Trincomalee on speculation that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family had relocated there.
Rajapaksa on Monday spoke to hundreds of supporters gathered at his official residence following reports that he was considering stepping down.
After his remarks, many of them, armed with iron bars, stormed a camp of those protesting against the government, beating them and setting fire to their tents.
Police fired water cannons and tear gas to disperse the skirmishers, after having initially done little to hold back the government supporters, according to Reuters witnesses.
Thousands streamed into the streets in celebration after Rajapaksa's resignation, but the mood quickly became tense.
Protesters attempted to tear down the gates of Temple Trees, his residence in the centre of Colombo, where broken glass and discarded footwear littered the surrounding streets on Tuesday, after some of the night's worst clashes.
IMF bailout talk in risk
Sri Lanka's unprecedented economic crisis follows a pandemic that hit key tourism earnings, leaving the government grappling with rising oil prices and the impact of populist tax cuts.
It has sought assistance from multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and the IMF, as well as neighbouring countries including Bangladesh, India, and China.
Former finance minister Ali Sabry, who resigned on Monday, along with the rest of Rajapaksa's cabinet, has said useable foreign reserves stand at as little as $50 million, reports Bloomberg.
Analysts said the country now faces more complications and delays in bailout talks with the IMF amid questions over political stability after the prime minister resigned.
The resulting economic contraction and widespread hardship "would raise questions about the stability of the current political establishment and its ability both to negotiate an IMF program as well as implement a tough economic program," Citigroup analysts led by Johanna Chua wrote in a note to clients.
The Colombo Stock Exchange remained closed on Tuesday citing operational reasons. The closure meant the Central Depository System of the exchange was unable to complete the settlement of funds and securities as the Central Bank of Sri Lanka's real-time gross settlement system was not operating, according to the stock exchange.