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Israel warns against non-essential travel to Sri Lanka amid ‘chaos’

Foreign Ministry advises citizens to take into account rapidly deteriorating economic situation, fuel and food shortages as leaders flee

Police use tear gas to disperse the protesters who stormed the compound of prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe 's office, amid economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 13, 2022. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)
Police use tear gas to disperse the protesters who stormed the compound of prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe 's office, amid economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 13, 2022. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

The Foreign Ministry recommended Thursday that Israelis avoid all non-essential travel to Sri Lanka, amid political turmoil and violence gripping the country.

“Israeli citizens in Sri Lanka are recommended to take into account the deteriorating economic situation that has resulted in an intensified shortage of fuel, cooking gas, and even food,” the Foreign Ministry travel warning said.

“This situation could develop into additional deteriorating of authorities’ ability to govern, which could include chaos in some areas of the country,” the warning said.

The Foreign Ministry also cautioned that leaving the country could be difficult because of uncertainty around flights leaving the capital, Colombo.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country on Wednesday, and his replacement declared a state of emergency.

The anti-government demonstrators were in talks Thursday to hand back the official buildings they seized, protest representatives said, even as they insisted the president and prime minister both quit in the face of an economic crisis.

Protesters overran Rajapaksa’s palace over the weekend, forcing him to flee to the Maldives on Wednesday, when activists also stormed the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The premier, whom Rajapaksa named as acting president in his absence, has demanded the evacuation of state buildings and instructed security forces to do “what is necessary to restore order.”

A man throws back a tear gas canister after it was fired by police to disperse protesters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 9, 2022. (Amitha Thennakoon/AP)

A top Buddhist monk supporting the campaign called for the 200-year-old presidential palace to be handed back to authorities and ensure its valuable art and artifacts were preserved.

“This building is a national treasure and it should be protected,” monk Omalpe Sobitha told reporters. “There must be a proper audit and the property given back to the state.”

Hundreds of thousands have visited the compound since it was opened to the public after Rajapaksa fled and his security guards backed down.

“There is a move to return the buildings back to the authorities,” an activist involved in the #GotaGoHome campaign told AFP.

A protester stands outside the official residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 14, 2022. (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

In a televised address after thousands of people captured his office in Colombo, Wickremesinghe declared: “Those who go to my office want to stop me from discharging my responsibilities as acting president.

“We can’t allow fascists to take over. That is why I declared a nationwide emergency and a curfew,” he added.

The curfew was lifted at dawn on Thursday, but police said a soldier and a constable were injured in overnight clashes with protesters outside the national parliament.

The attempt on the legislature was beaten back, unlike at other locations where the protesters had spectacular success.

The main hospital in Colombo said about 85 people were admitted with injuries on Wednesday, with one man suffocating and dying after a tear gas attack at the premier’s office.

An injured protester reacts in pain as he is shifted to hospital in an ambulance during clashes with police near parliament in Colombo, Sri Lanka, July 13, 2022. (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

Rajapaksa had promised to resign on Wednesday, but there was no announcement he had done so.

He remained in the Maldives, reportedly awaiting a private jet to take him, his wife Ioma and two bodyguards to Singapore.

Rajapaksa is accused of mismanaging the economy to a point where the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports, leading to severe hardships for its 22 million people.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the IMF for a possible bailout.

The island has nearly exhausted its already scarce supplies of petrol with the government ordering the closure of non-essential offices and schools to reduce commuting and save fuel.

Diplomatic sources said Rajapaksa’s attempts to secure a visa to the United States had been turned down because he renounced his US citizenship in 2019 before running for president.

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