Government supporters have attacked protesters camped outside the office of Sri Lanka’s prime minister, as trade unions begin a “Week of Protests” demanding the government change and its president step down over the country’s worst economic crisis in memory.
Several hundred supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa rallied at his office on Monday, after reports saying he may step down to alleviate pressure on the president, who is his younger brother.
“Whose power? Mahinda’s power!” they shouted as the compound gates swung open to allow them inside.
After the meeting, the government supporters went out to where protesters have been demonstrating for several days in front of the office. Local television channel Sirasa showed them attacking protesters with clubs, demolishing and later burning down their tents.
The attack on protesters came a day after Mahinda Rajapaksa was heckled during his first public outing since nationwide protests erupted. On Sunday, the premier visited one of the holiest Buddhist temples – housing a tree said to be 2,300 years old – in Anuradhapura.
Dozens of people carried hand-written placards and chanted slogans demanding that “thieves” be banned from the sacred city, 200km (125 miles) north of Colombo.
Meanwhile, trade unions on Monday called for protests throughout this week, trade union activist Saman Rathnapriya said, and more than 1,000 unions representing health, ports, education, and other key service sectors have joined the Week of Protests movement.
During the week, he said, the workers will stage demonstrations at their workplaces across the country. At the end of the week, they will launch a huge march to parliament, demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s removal and a new government.