The military has been called to the prime minister’s Temple Trees residence after protesters tried to break into his private residence twice overnight, a senior security source told CNN.
According to the source, the attackers managed to “get outside the outer perimeter” of the apartment building, where they threw petrol bombs, but their attempts to enter the building were thwarted when the military fired tear gas.
One police officer involved in the clashes died instantly when a tear gas gun exploded, a security official said, confirming that Prime Minister Rajapaksa and his family had been taken to an unknown location.
The scenes follow an evening of violent clashes in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo on Monday, in which at least seven people were killed, according to police, though it’s not clear if all of the deaths were directly related to the protests.
The clashes also injured 217 people, according to local health authorities.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Monday evening shortly after a nationwide curfew was imposed. The curfew was imposed after footage was shown live on television of government supporters armed with sticks beating protesters at multiple locations across the capital, including in Galle Face Green, and demolishing and burning their tents. Dozens of homes were burned across the country amid the violence, according to witnesses interviewed by CNN.
According to a CNN team on the ground, military forces were deployed, and video footage showed police using tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters.
“Now we are helpless, we are asking for help,” anti-government protester Pasindu Senanayaka told Reuters as black smoke billowed from a burning tent nearby and part of the protest camp lay in disarray.
Police also accused the protesters of violence, saying they attacked buses carrying local officials to Colombo to meet the prime minister.
After chaotic scenes, the government imposed an island-wide curfew and the 76-year-old prime minister resigned shortly after. “Many stakeholders have indicated that the best solution to the current crisis is the formation of an interim all-party government,” he said.
“Therefore, I have resigned so that the next steps can be taken in accordance with the Constitution.”
However, it remains unclear whether the curfew and his resignation will be enough to contain the increasingly volatile situation in the country of 22 million people.
Many protesters say their ultimate goal is to force President Gotabai Rajapaksa, the prime minister’s brother, to resign, which he has not done so far.
The President condemned the violence in a Twitter post but refrained from laying blame.
“(I) strongly condemn violent acts committed by those who incite and participate, regardless of political affiliation,” he wrote. “Violence will not solve current problems.”
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said the use of violence by government supporters has provoked a “dangerous escalation that increases the risk of further fatal violence and other violations.”
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called on the government to “defend the right to peaceful protest.”
“It is imperative that the security forces fully respect the right to peaceful assembly and that the perpetrators of the violence are held accountable,” Ganguly said.
For weeks, Sri Lanka has been battling the worst economic crisis since the island nation gained independence in 1948, leaving food, fuel, gas and medicine in short supply and the cost of basic commodities skyrocketing.
Stores across the country have been forced to close because refrigerators, air conditioners or fans are out of order, and soldiers have been posted at gas stations to reassure shoppers who have to queue for hours in the scorching heat to fill up their tanks. Some people died while waiting.
Protesters in Colombo took to the streets for the first time in late March, demanding action and accountability from the government. Recently, the government was in disarray as ministers resigned en masse.
President Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency last Friday after clashes outside the country’s parliament, but public outrage continues to mount.
The Rajapaksa family dominated Sri Lankan politics for over two decades. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation comes as several other family members who previously held positions at the cabinet level were also forced to resign.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the only family member left in power.