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Protesters demand arrest of former Sri Lankan PM over attack

Sri Lankans protest demanding president Gotabaya Rajakasa resign and decrying the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, May 13, 2022. Five-time former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was reappointed on Thursday in an effort to bring stability to the island nation, which is engulfed in a political and economic crisis. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Protesters attacked earlier this week by supporters of Sri Lanka’s government demanded Friday that the newly appointed prime minister arrest his predecessor for allegedly instigating the attack against them as they were calling for his resignation.

A group of protesters camped Friday outside the official residence of new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed Thursday evening by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a bid to hold onto power and quell the island nation’s political and economic crisis.

For months, Sri Lankans have been forced to wait in long lines to purchase scarce imported essentials such as medicines, fuel, cooking gas and food because of a severe foreign currency shortage.

The president’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned as prime minister on Monday after the attack on the peaceful protesters triggered a wave of violence across the country. Nine people were killed and more than 200 wounded.

The group of about 10 protesters camped Friday at the prime minister’s residence said they don’t trust Wickremesinghe, a former five-time prime minister, because he is close to the Rajapaksas.

“If he is truly on the side of the people,” he should have Mahinda Rajapaksa arrested, said Wimal Jayasuriya, a 43-year-old teacher. If he doesn’t arrest him, “then he has to get ready to go.”

Jayasuriya and the others said they were among the protesters who were attacked Monday with metal and wooden poles by Rajapaksa supporters who were leaving the prime minister’s residence after meeting with him.

Thousands of protesters have joined weeks of protests outside the president’s office and the prime minister’s residence demanding their resignations over the country’s economic crisis.

Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family have taken refuge at a fortified naval base in Trincomalee, on the northeastern coast. A court on Thursday issued travel bans against him, his former Cabinet minister son and 15 others, including other former ministers, pending an investigation into the attack on the protesters.

Wickremesinghe’s appointment has been opposed by some politicians and religious leaders who say he is part of a corrupt system they want overhauled.

As prime minister from 2015 to 2019, Wickremesinghe was accused of protecting the Rajapaksa family from allegations of corruption and other crimes after Mahinda Rajapaksa lost a presidential election in 2015.

The main opposition party, which split from Wickremesinghe’s leadership in 2020, also opposes his appointment as prime minister.

Wickremesinghe says he can prove he has the support of a majority of Parliament and will be able to solve the country’s economic issues.

Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy and has suspended repayment of its foreign loans pending negotiations on a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund.

It needs to repay $7 billion in foreign debt this year out of $25 billion due by 2026. Its total foreign debt is $51 billion. The finance ministry says the country currently has only $25 million in usable foreign reserves.