Sri Lanka protesters call for new government a day after clashes kill eight

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Protesters and a key trade group in Sri Lanka called for a new government to take control of the crisis-hit country on Tuesday as the president called for calm a day after clashes killed eight people, pushing his brother to quit as prime minister.

Sri Lanka has been suffering its worst economic crisis in history, with a severe shortage of foreign exchange stalling the essential of imports, including drugs and fuel.

For months, its tottering economy has been largely supported by India, which has provided assistance of more than $3.5 billion as the country began much-delayed talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package and also sought help from China.

China and India have long jostled for influence over Sri Lanka, a strategically-located island located off the southern tip of India with a population of 22 million people.

But the public’s patience ran out on Monday after ruling party supporters attacked an anti-government protest camp in the commercial capital Colombo, triggering a bout of deadly clashes that has left over 200 people injured.

Hours after the violence erupted, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned in the hope of forming a unity government and the police imposed a nationwide curfew until 7 a.m. on Wednesday. The country’s entire cabinet also stepped down.

Protesters angered by persistent shortages of fuel, cooking gas and electricity defied the curfew to attack government figures, setting ablaze homes, shops and businesses belonging to ruling party lawmakers and provincial politicians.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former prime minister’s younger brother, urged for an end to the violence and his government outlined broad powers for the military and police to detain and question people without arrest warrants.

“All efforts will be made to restore political stability through consensus, within constitutional mandate & to resolve economic crisis,” the president said in a tweet.

The country’s defence ministry also ordered troops to shoot at any persons damaging public property or threatening lives.

But protesters continued rallying for the president to quit, including at the “Gota Go Gama” tent village that was attacked by ruling party supporters on Tuesday.

“Now the whole island is supporting us,” said Lahiru Fernando, 36, who has been camped at the anti-government protest site for weeks. “They kicked the wrong generation.”

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