Sri Lanka crisis: Gotabaya Rajapaksa returns; apprehension of protest grows
Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa returned to the country on Friday nearly two months after fleeing the island country amid the worst-ever economic downturn, according to AFP. He was welcomed by a group of ministers and lawmakers with flower bouquets and garlands at the main international airport, it stated. However, there is concern that his return would spark fresh protests.
Why does this story matter?
- Sri Lanka has been facing the worst economic crisis since independence, stemming from a foreign exchange crisis leading to shortages of essential supplies.
- The new President Ranil Wickremesinghe who took over in mid-July also failed to bring the county out of the crisis.
- However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to a conditional $2.9 billion bailout package for Sri Lanka after months of negotiations.
Strict security measures put in place
Local media reports said the Sri Lankan government had made plans to house Rajapaksa in a central Colombo neighborhood. Even before he arrived in Sri Lanka on Friday, police, and soldiers were stationed there. Security at his own property has also been strengthened. Rajapaksa would be given special treatment as per the protocol of a former president, according to a Defense Ministry official.
How do protesters react?
The authorities became highly apprehensive about demonstrations with Rajapaksa return. Some demonstrators have said they will not support his return to politics or governance. However, Father Jivantha Peiris, a prominent leader of the protesters, told the BBC that he was not opposed to his return. He said no one had personal enmity with Rajapaksa but protested against his government's corruption.
Activists may seek Rajapaksa's arrest in journalist's death
As per reports, Rajapaksa's protection ceased with his departure as the President. Several activists have already stated that they would seek his arrest for several crimes, including his suspected role in the death of a newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickremetunge. "We welcome his return so that he can be punished for his crimes," stated a representative for the Sri Lanka Young Journalists' Association.
Some hope for shattered economy, IMF agreed on bailout package
Following Wickremesinghe's election, street demonstrators faced a severe crackdown, with several major activists jailed. Meanwhile, the government defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April, and the central bank predicts a record 8% GDP shrinkage this year. However, after months of discussions, the IMF agreed on Thursday to a conditional $2.9 billion rescue plan to rebuild Sri Lanka's shattered finances.