Mahinda Rajapaksa’s key ally named suspect in May 9 violence, President appoints Commission of Inquiry to probe recent violence

Colombo, Jun 1 (PTI) A former Sri Lankan minister and a key ally of former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was on Wednesday named a suspect in the deadly attack on anti-government protesters last month even as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a Commission of Inquiry to probe the recent violence in the country.

At least 10 people, including a ruling party MP, were killed in the May 9 clashes triggered by a pro-government group attacking anti-government protesters, who were demanding resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country’s worst economic crisis that led to acute shortages of staple food, fuel and power.

Johnston Fernando, a former senior minister who was seen making an inflammatory speech addressing the Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters before they went about attacking the unarmed protesters, has been named a suspect.

Police had earlier recorded a statement from him. At least two of his parliamentary colleagues, state ministers are currently under custody.

The backlash from the attack saw personal properties of over 70 parliamentarians of the ruling party facing arson attacks. Over 1,700 people have been arrested for the attacks.

The President’s Office on Wednesday said a special three-member probe panel headed by a retired judge has been appointed to investigate and report on all loss of life and property, including arson, robbery and murder, which took place in several areas of the island between March 31 and May 15.

Supreme Court Justice President’s Counsel B P Aluvihare has been appointed as the Chairman of the Commission, News1st reported.

Former Senior DIG S M Wickramasinghe and Additional Chief Valuer N.A.S Wasantha Kumara form the rest of the commission, the report said.

Police chief Chandana Wickremaratna on Wednesday attended the court to explain the non-transfer of his senior deputy Deshabandu Tennakoon. The magistrate court had instructed Wickremaratna to transfer Tennakoon out of the western province division which he headed at the time of the attack.

Tennakoon was accused of siding with the pro-government group who had attacked the protesters.

Sri Lanka has been witnessing large-scale protests against the government’s handling of the debt-ridden economy — the worst-ever economic crisis in the country’s history. The country of 22 million people is grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.

The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices.