How politico-led goon squads unleashed violence and terror on protestors Groups retaliate killing an MP, eight others and cause extensive damage to property Ranil becomes Premier for sixth time; rattles SJB leader Sajith who initially refused but sought premiership later At the seafront luxury two-storied house of a young politician in the deep south, with [...]


The dark hours of black Monday


  • How politico-led goon squads unleashed violence and terror on protestors
  • Groups retaliate killing an MP, eight others and cause extensive damage to property
  • Ranil becomes Premier for sixth time; rattles SJB leader Sajith who initially refused but sought premiership later
At the seafront luxury two-storied house of a young politician in the deep south, with powerful friends of his own age, the discussion with a group of supporters was hush hush.

It began with how best to persuade President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to retain in office Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. The well-manicured garden around the house was more than an acre in extent. They felt so secure, the conversation extended to more controversial areas.

Buses that brought the goons to Colombo were identified and attacked. Pic by Eshan Fernando

Similarly, at least three other politicians from different parts of the country were also meeting in their homes with groups of their own supporters. This included a new rich former Cabinet minister. These were in the Kurunegala (the district worst hit by violent attacks), Ratnapura and Kalutara districts among others. Ahead of these meetings, these politicians had met together with other influential persons in Colombo to broadly discuss plans to attack the protestors.

These meetings were just three days before the event at Temple Trees complex, where at a conference building, the Premier addressed more than 2,000 Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) local council politicians on the morning of Monday, May 9.  They were transported to Colombo from different areas in buses to express solidarity with the then Premier Rajapaksa. The aftermath of the incident was to trigger the worst violence outside Temple Trees and the Galle Face Green. Peaceful protests demanding the ouster of President Rajapaksa began more than a month ago at the Galle Face Green, extended to the Temple Trees area and spread to other parts of the country.

Unknown to those at the meetings, watchful eyes and ears of an intelligence agency were keeping track of every move at the meetings in the homes of these politicians, all of them displeased with the President but for different reasons. First, the talk among the political plotters had centered on visiting Janadipathi Mandiraya to make a ‘forceful’ appeal to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa urging him not to remove Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The goings-on thereafter raised alarm bells. High ranking intelligence officials hurriedly briefed top persons in uniform in two different sectors and other key officials. They warned plans were afoot to unleash a wave of deadly violence that Monday on protestors outside Temple Trees and at the Galle Face Green. One high ranking personality, the Sunday Times learnt, directed a top intelligence official at the helm to take immediate steps to put a stop to the move. He had insisted it should not be allowed to happen. This was after this personality was briefed, and a written report was handed in later.

Yet, that failed to stop the mayhem. Did anyone or more persons use influence to thwart the exercise or delay action? The question is being raised in the national interest. Valuables lives and property could have been saved if preventive measures were hurriedly taken. It would have also negated the highly damaging publicity Sri Lanka received abroad — a strong deterrent for tourist arrivals for months to come. It would have also become a prohibitive factor for foreign direct investment in Sri Lanka because the impression has been created that there is no law and order in the country. Instability was growing. Will those who wield power and influence get away scot free after causing all the colossal damage? Why were they not concerned about the interests of the country and the people?

Now, the sequence of events leading to the incidents is unfolding as investigations are under way. It not only throws light on the intricate planning. It also reveals how strong wooden poles and other objects were obtained by marauding mobs. Some had been brought into Temple Trees affixed to Sri Lanka flags whilst other stocks have been provided from within. Were they brought in these in vehicles? A chain of other lapses which otherwise could have prevented mayhem, for some unexplainable reason, have begun to surface. Some revelations, including comments by an attacker to a former powerful minister at Temple Trees laid bare on video the remarks that “we should now go to the Galle Face…” The alleged attacker also posed for a selfie with this young politico.

However, the Defence Secretary, retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne, told a news conference last Wednesday that there was no prior intelligence information received about the attacks on the protestors. If his assertions are correct, they had come as a surprise or even a shock, much the same way groups carried out an attack on the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Mirihana on March 31. Maj. Gen. (retd.) Gunaratne is a seasoned soldier and was in the frontlines of the campaign for the military defeat of Tiger guerrillas in May 2009.

There were some features unique to last Black Monday incidents. The fact that they were broadcast live by at least three different television channels not only afforded a clear perspective to the public. More than that, it also helped both the protestors and the investigators to find answers to many questions through replay and rewinds. So did the many other video clips that emerged. Here is a brief sequence of events which Sri Lankans (and later the outside world) saw, with the fire and fury of a real-life action movie. To say they sent shockwaves is to describe it mildly.

Among those who addressed the packed crowd at the conference building were former ministers Johnston Fernando and Pavithra Wanniaratchchi. Fernando has been a bitter critic of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa since he was removed from the highway’s portfolio. He said, if Premier Rajapaksa resigned, it would create a political crisis in the country. He insisted that he should not resign. Fernando added: “If Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns there would be a political crisis the minute he resigns. Therefore, we tell the President if he tells his elder brother and Prime Minister to resign, we do not accept that in any manner.” Similar sentiments were also expressed by former Health Minister Pavithra Wanniaratchchi, who had also turned a critic of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Just weeks earlier, the President refused to talk to her after a meeting of the government parliamentary group. She had wanted to offer him an explanation over her reported misconduct.

Those speeches were followed by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Surrounded by personal security escorts, he was helped to inch his way through the crowd to reach a lectern. If the expectation was an announcement that he was going to resign, he avoided the reference. In a shaky voice, often inaudible, he made a brief statement. Some highlights:

“……..When people are pressured, the country is driven towards a crisis. As President, I faced a similar economic crisis in 2009. We were able to resolve it without pressuring the people or without the glare of any publicity. Then we identified the problems. We listened to the solutions and appointed officials who were educated about the matter. We worked towards resolving the problem. A crisis is not a problem that is devoid of solutions. Being engaged in politics in this land, I have felt the happiness, sadness, and victory. We are familiar with protests, hartal campaigns then and today.

“You should remember that we need to consider the betterment of people. It is important when a country is facing an economic crisis. You should remember that the short-sighted politics is not the right solution during such a situation. We should not just hopelessly observe the incidents when we are responsible to the people. We should not forget that some people who are hiding amidst the problems of the people are using people’s impulse to keep the country inactive and turn the country towards anarchy. There can be protests and there should be a way where we can give them the solutions for their problems. We have no right to turn our back to the constitution of the country saying that we are giving solutions to the problems.

“Therefore, my policy is that we should face challenges and try to win them. I need to tell you that I have no habit of running away from them. It is important that we should not set wrong precedents. The Parliament representatives who represent people as well as the people who hand over sovereignty have responsibility over it.  It is not a secret that the opposition is carrying out a political agenda through the economic crisis faced by the country. They only need power; they kicked the invitation we extended to join and build the country. Even when we told them to take over the government, they are still stuck between two worlds.

“They like it but fear it at the same time; they are between whether to take power or not. I never believe that the people’s leaders who go reverse would be able to be responsible to the people and the country and protect you. The most revered Maha Nayakes, His Eminence the Cardinal and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, some politicians and civil society activists are proposing an all-party government. Accordingly, we could see how all parties which made the proposals take up the challenges that the country is facing. Therefore, the President can come to a decision regarding the matter without any interference.

“If anyone without interference acts for the betterment of the people, I am ready to make any sacrifice to support that. However, we should remember one more thing. The camp that we represent has 6.9 million people. No one has the right to betray their aspirations.

“I always say that our first, second and third priority is our motherland. Therefore, our only objective and wish is to resolve the economic crisis with whatever action. Let us face the future and let us do our duty to the country together, I believe that you would stand strong with us in the future.”

For millions of Sri Lankans who were watching live television coverage of the events, the scenes shifted immediately after Mahinda Rajapaksa had ended his speech. To their shock and horror, they saw mobs carrying wooden poles and other objects trooping out of Temple Trees. In broad daylight, they headed first to the main entrance to Temple Trees along Galle Road. This is just a few steps away from the Kollupitiya Police Station which forms a protective barrier for Temple Trees.

They beat up protestors who were inside tents. The victims included veterans of the separatist war who wore artificial legs or arms, members of the Buddhist clergy who were seated on the ground and others. I saw in the live coverage several policemen stood watching while the attacks went on. This is despite helpless cries from men and women to intervene. “Tear gas gahala meka navaththanna,” or fire tear gas and stop this, pleaded one distraught woman.  The Police there did not lift a finger to help those under attack. A heart-rending scene was when four armed thugs with long poles surrounded a middle-aged woman in long flowing clothes and assaulted her just outside the main gate to Temple Trees.

Having left a trail of destruction outside the Temple Trees area, the mobs marched towards the Galle Face Green. The mayhem continued there. It was easy for the mobs to identify targets. The protestors wore white headbands which bore the black print Gota Go Home. They were mercilessly assaulted and the tents they have pitched for more than a month were burnt down. Some were destroyed. Significant enough, it is only thereafter that the Police moved into action to disperse the crowds and baton charged sections of the protestors.  Armed troops also moved in around this time.

It took less than two hours for the tide to turn. Soon news spread that the protestors had come under attack from mobs that broke out from Temple Trees, more of the protest’s supporters turned up outside Temple Trees and at the Galle Face Green. A few of the attackers were rounded up. They were assaulted mercilessly. Some lay on the road with blood pouring from their heads or bodies. A group moved to the rear of Temple Trees, along Perahera Mawatha. This was the route the participants to the rally were taking to board buses that lay parked. They were bodily lifted and thrown into the algae ridden Beira Lake. The escort vehicles of a minister and another were pushed into the lake. I heard one of them shout, “Go, swim back to Hambantota now. This is Colombo.”  Another group was armed with a list of registration numbers of buses in which the participants to the Temple Trees conference arrived. They were identified. Some were damaged. In others, the tyres were deflated. During night, a curfew notwithstanding, groups were at city intersections to identify remaining buses and search for Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters. There were also large numbers at the Kottawa entrance to the southern expressway. There were instances when some vehicles were identified, and their occupants assaulted.

It was later Monday evening that news emerged that Mahinda Rajapaksa had resigned as Prime Minister. In the undated letter he wrote to President Rajapaksa, outgoing Premier Rajapaksa said, “People are facing difficulty due to the economic and political crisis created due to covid pandemic, the war situation in Europe and the economic crisis created by the short-sighted economic decisions made by different governments after Independence. I do not need to explain that this is the most difficult situation the country faced during the recent history.

“I would like to point out that the most revered Maha Nayakas of all three sects, His Eminence the Cardinal, the Bar Association, political parties, and civil group say the most suitable solution for the prevailing situation is an all-party-interim government.

“Hence, according to your request made at the special cabinet meeting on May 6, 2022, (Note: the then Premier Rajapaksa earlier had denied that a request had been made to him to resign) I am immediately resigning from the post of prime minister by giving my full consensus to give opportunity to take further action to create the proposed all-party-interim government according to the provisions of the constitution.

“I am dedicated for the public good. Therefore, I am ready to make greater sacrifice in the future. My only aspiration is to see an end to the difficulties that the people are facing through any proposed action. I strongly believe that all the groups which proposed an interim government would come forward to face future challenges.”

By Monday evening, the defence authorities were briefing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that security conditions were becoming increasingly unsafe for the former Premier Rajapaksa and members of his family at Temple Trees. That night too, different attempts had been made by groups to break in. On one occasion, they had thrown burning torches setting fire to a small section. On another, they had breached the first security perimeter but additional troops that were inducted helped Police to thwart any further infiltration. During a pre-dawn operation, the former Premier and family were evacuated by Air Force helicopters to Trincomalee. This was after troops formed a ring around Temple Trees and kept pushing the protestors away. They are at the luxury bungalow of the Navy Commander overlooking the ocean in the Eastern Naval Command. One of the signals for the evacuation was the firing of several rounds of rifle fire into the air before moving out. From Trincomalee, former Premier Rajapaksa is now mulling about the possibility of having a news conference in Colombo to give his version of the story.

It was not until close upon midnight on Tuesday that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was able to summon a meeting of the National Security Council. They learnt that some 38 houses of politicians, some allegedly masterminding the mob attacks, had been burnt down in different parts of the country. A decision was made at this meeting to toughen security measures.

Both domestically and in the eyes of the international community, there is no gainsaying, that the finger is being pointed at the government for allowing mobs to resort to violence against protestors. This is at a time when accusations are already being hurled against government politicians over the 2019 Easter Sunday massacres. It is, therefore, incumbent on the government to conduct an impartial inquiry and ensure that those responsible are brought to book. More so when there are moves to raise these issues before the UN Human Rights Council sessions in September. Any attempt at a cover-up of those involved can only cost the country and the government dearly.

This also comes at a time when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was busy talking to different groups on the formation of an interim government. Grandstanding by Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa cost him dearly in political terms. It is no secret that there has been discontent among the SJB parliamentarians. One top member, who did not wish to be identified, said, “He has all this time been a part time leader.” He was alluding to the shock his archrival, United National Party leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, being chosen as Prime Minister.

Initially, Premadasa had insisted that he would not serve as Prime Minister under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It has now come to light that he had gone a step further. In an evident move to thwart former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya from becoming Prime Minister for an interim period, he had indicated that Mayantha Dissanayake should not step down to make way for him as a National List MP. The Sunday Times learnt that he told the young MP, son of the late Gamini Dissanayake, now on a visit to Canada, not to rush back to Sri Lanka to resign. He asked him to take his time and return to Colombo.

Upon hearing that Wickremesinghe was to be sworn in, Premadasa, summoned his SJB parliamentary group and got them to endorse his decision to accept the Premiership, subject to a set of conditions. This was incorporated into a letter and sent to the Presidential Secretariat via Whats Ap . A copy was also hand delivered by SJB parliamentarian S.M. Marikkar to the Janadipathi Mandiraya . President Rajapaksa had replied that he had already made up his mind. Premadasa now fears that there could be defections from the SJB. The coming months are not going to be easy for him with discontent within the party growing.

True, Ranil Wickremesinghe became the only UNP Member of Parliament having lost 157 (including his own) seats during the parliamentary elections. He returned to Parliament on a single bonus seat. So much so, the uncharitable joke that did the rounds was about Parliament sessions. It was said that when Wickremesinghe chose to use the washroom, there was no UNP representation in the House.

However, since returning to Parliament he has won plaudits from the Colombo-based diplomatic community. They say he has had the ability to strike the right chord in his speeches and statements — a virtue that was not seen in the Opposition Leader who had allowed many an opportunity to slip by. Barely 24 hours after Wickremesinghe assumed office, Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay, Japanese Ambassador Hideki Mizukoshi and the US Ambassador Julie Chung visited him. Talks by the US envoy, from one of the four Quad countries centered on the setting up of an aid club to provide Sri Lanka’s immediate needs. When the subject was originally broached by a western country, an incompetent senior bureaucrat at the Foreign Ministry had stymied the move, as reported in these columns. His contention was that the countries involved had accused Sri Lanka of human rights violations. However, Premier Wickremesinghe has agreed to the move. Hard on the heels of their move, China’s Ambassador Qi Zhenhong also called on the new Premier.

Yet, the role Wickremesinghe has undertaken is challenging. He may face a vote of confidence in Parliament. Also, a vote of censure on President Gotabaya (See full text on this page), will be moved on Tuesday. Government MPs have formulated their strategy to counter this. However, this motion is non-binding. Yesterday, President Rajapaksa summoned a meeting of the SLPP parliamentarians to ensure they extend their support to the new Premier during Tuesday’s vote. He is also expected to make a statement on the status of supply positions in Parliament.

President Rajapaksa and Premier Wickremesinghe are both confident of receiving a majority vote in Parliament. That is their biggest challenge on the road to restore normalcy by meeting the immediate needs of Sri Lankans.

Text of censure motion against PresidentA motion of censure on the President will be debated in Parliament on Tuesday. It is listed in the Parliament Order Book issued on May 11. Here are the names of the signatories and the full text:Hon. Sajith PremadasaHon. Tissa AttanayakeHon. Abdul Haleem

Hon. Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka

Hon. (Dr.) Rajitha Senarathne

Hon. R. M. Ranjith Madduma Bandara

Hon. (Dr.) Harsha de Silva

Hon. Eran Wickramaratne

Hon. Rishad Bathiudeen

Hon. (Dr.) V. Radhakrishnan

Hon. Velu Kumar

Hon. (Mrs.) Thalatha Athukorala

Hon. Lakshman Kiriella

Hon. Harshana Rajakaruna

Hon. Gayantha Karunatilleka

Hon. Palani Thigambaram

Hon. K. Sujith Sanjaya Perera

Hon. Thushara Indunil Amarasena

Hon. Patali Champika Ranawaka

Hon. Ajith Mannapperuma

Hon. Ashok Abeysinghe

Hon. Vadivel Suresh

Hon. W. H. M. Dharmasena

Hon. M. Udayakumar


Hon. Waruna Liyanage

Hon. Manusha Nanayakkara

Hon. Harin Fernando

Hon. Kumara Welgama

Hon. Imthiaz Bakeer Markar

Hon. J. C. Alawathuwala

Hon. Hesha Withanage

Hon. Kins Nelson

Hon. Rauff Hakeem

Hon. Mano Ganesan

Hon. Nalin Bandara Jayamaha

Hon. Rohana Bandara,—

Displeasure of Parliament for not having properly exercised, performed and discharged the powers of the President under the Constitution,— Whereas in terms of Article 42 of the Constitution the President is responsible to Parliament for the due exercise, performance and discharge of his powers, duties and functions under the Constitution and any written law, including the law for the time being relating to public security;

And whereas His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected as the President on 17th November 2019 and continues to hold that office to date;

And whereas soon after his election, the President appointed his brother Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP as the Prime Minister and invited him to form the government, which he did;

And whereas the government headed by the President announced a series of tax reliefs in December 2019 with a view to win the General Election, which the President was entitled to call for at the end of February 2020;

And whereas the said tax reliefs resulted in the State losing as much as 25% of the expected revenue, which in turn contributed largely to the ratings falling from B to B- by April 2020, and to CCC by November 2020, shutting the country out of being able to borrow any further from the international financial markets;

And whereas in or about April 2021 the President ordered the prohibition of the use of chemical fertilizer and implemented the order with immediate effect causing untold hardship and colossal loss of yield of various produces;

And whereas there was a lack of due process in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, while also ignoring expert scientific advice, the President misused the COVID-19 pandemic to expand and increase militarization around the island;

And whereas scientific and medical advice was not heeded, which resulted in targeting minority communities through forced cremations including that of a 20-day-old baby as well as the encouragement of quack remedies. The fund balance in the ‘ITUKAMA’ COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund had surpassed a sum of Rs. 1.659 billion by October 2020, yet there was a massive shortage in hospital and medical facilities available to patients;

(3) And whereas the President failed to follow procedures set in law and brought into force illegal declarations of ‘curfew’ and ‘quarantine curfew’ during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic without the necessary Gazette publications; And whereas purchasing the Sinopharm vaccine for 15 USD per dose instead of the 2.85 USD rate, and thereby worsening the dent in the economy while failing to take urgent and timely steps to secure the required vaccines and commence the vaccination drive to curb the rapid spread of the deadly virus; And whereas the President appointed his brother Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, against whom court cases for fraud were pending, as the Minister of Finance in July 2021;

And whereas the President appointed Mr. Ajith Nivard Cabraal as the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in or about September 2021 by ignoring his previous murky track record in economic decision making;

And whereas nearly 730 incidents of gas cylinder explosions were reported due to a change in composition of the LP gas cylinder causing multiple deaths and injuries; And whereas the President has continuously failed to make decisions based on rational, scientific and expert advice and resorted to the counsel of a soothsayer while also using public funds to construct her temple and provide her with military protection;

And whereas on or about the 01st of April 2022, the President abused powers under the Public Security Ordinance by invoking the said powers and illegally declaring a State of Emergency for his personal security and thereby infringing on the citizens fundamental rights to peaceful protest, movement, freedom to practice a religion of their choice, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom of association and to engage in lawful businesses;

And whereas on or about 03rd of April 2022, a social media ban imposed on the citizens further deprived their fundamental rights including the right to access to information including crucial and essential information such news updates and easy access to the daily power cut schedule;

And whereas when the President was challenged of his illegal decision by asking that a vote be taken in Parliament, he immediately revoked the proclamation of emergency on 05th of April 2022;

And whereas on or about the 19th of April 2022, citizens in Rambukkana who were exercising their right to protest by agitating about the sudden increase in fuel prices were shot at by law enforcement officers, killing one (01), critically injuring three (03) and injuring many other unarmed civilians;

And whereas many citizens came by their deaths while standing in queues for essential items due to severe shortages as a result of the exacerbation of the economic status of the Country;

(4) And whereas the President admitted that he had made mistakes in imposing an immediate ban on chemical fertilizers and in delaying to seek the help of the International Monetary Fund. Both ‘mistakes’ had very serious adverse impact on the economy; That this Parliament expresses its displeasure for not having properly exercised, performed and discharged the powers of the President under the Constitution.

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