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Sri Lanka’s Protests Turn Deadly

Weeks of peaceful demonstrations erupted into violence following the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A bus burns close to Sri Lanka's outgoing Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's official residence, in Colombo May 9, 2022.
A bus burns close to Sri Lanka's outgoing Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's official residence, in Colombo May 9, 2022.
A bus burns close to Sri Lanka's outgoing Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's official residence, in Colombo May 9, 2022. ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Sri Lanka’s protests, U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Sri Lanka’s Night of Turmoil

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Sri Lanka’s protests, U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Sri Lanka’s Night of Turmoil

Sri Lankans have awoken to a changed country this morning after weeks of peaceful protests over the country’s economic crisis turned violent following the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The violence is believed to have started when pro-government groups attacked the anti-government protest site at the Galle Face Green in the capital, Colombo.

The prime minister’s exit still leaves one Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s brother Gotabaya, in charge as president. Mahinda’s decision to step down has not spared the family from public anger: By the time the day ended, the Rajapaksa ancestral home in Hambantota had already been set ablaze.

Mahinda and his immediate family were evacuated under heavily armed guard early this morning after protesters forced their way into his official residence.

On a night of violence in which five people were killed and a further 200 injured, one member of parliament was among the dead. MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala took his own life, according to police, after he shot two protesters and was soon encircled by a mob.

Devana Senanayake, a Sri Lankan reporter who spoke to Foreign Policy from Colombo, said the resignation of Rajapaksa is unlikely to deter protesters: “At the end of the day, people want a complete system change.”

As Senanayake wrote last week in Foreign Policy those demands for change have begun to crystallize over the past few weeks as disparate ethnic and social groups have joined the protests. Beyond urging the government to address the country’s financial crisis, there have been calls to demilitarize the north and east of the country and abolish the powerful executive presidency.

Of course, the roots of public frustration with the Rajapaksas go much deeper. As Amita Arudpragasam wrote in FP last week, both Rajapaksa brothers have played their part in destabilizing the economy by tolerating corruption and saddling the country with unpayable debts.

Throughout, the Rajapaksas have leaned on the Sinhalese Buddhist majority to prop up their government while demonizing the minority Tamil and Muslim populations. Now that the Sinhalese Buddhists have joined the protests in large numbers, “the foundation of lies and racism on which the Rajapaksas have built up their political legitimacy is slowly crumbling,” Arudpragasam wrote.

For Senanayake, the protests could yet lead to period of broad-based—rather than elite-dominated—national renewal. The wider public “never actually took part in the process of nation-building, even in the period that led to independence in 1948,” Senanayake said. “This is the first time they have come together to organize, mobilize, and make demands as per their democratic rights at this scale.”


What We’re Following Today

Yoon takes office. Yoon Suk-yeol officially became president of South Korea today following his inauguration in Seoul earlier this morning. Yoon’s victory in the March presidential election capped a remarkable turnaround for the country’s conservative party, just five years after mass protests helped oust then-President Park Geun-hye.

Writing in Foreign Policy, S. Nathan Park explained the baffling rise of Yoon and how he engineered a razor-thin victory over his liberal challenger Lee Jae-myung.

Biden meets Draghi. U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi today at the White House, where the two leaders are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine—as well as energy, climate change, and the global economy. Unlike the U.S. government, Italy’s governing coalition is showing signs of unease with the prospect of sending more arms to Ukraine.

There’s no such reluctance in Washington, where Biden has jettisoned plans to include COVID-19 funding as part of a vote on $40 billion in new Ukraine aid in order to speed the bill’s journey to his desk.

Marcos wins. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the Philippines’ late dictator, will be the country’s next president according to unofficial results. Marcos Jr. is currently beating his rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, having received 30 million votes to her 14 million. Official results are not expected for several weeks.


Keep an Eye On

Our warming world. The probability of the earth warming over 1.5 degrees Celsius from preindustrial times by 2026 is now close to 50-50 and is likely to rise further, according to new research published today by the World Meteorological Organization and the U.K. Met Office.

“This study shows—with a high level of scientific skill—that we are getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement,” World Meteorological Organization chief Petteri Taalas said. “The 1.5C figure is not some random statistic. It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet.”

Colombia’s drug war. Colombian authorities reported that eight people have been killed in gang violence that erupted following the extradition of powerful Clan del Golfo cartel leader Dairo Antonio Úsuga, known as “Otoniel,” to the United States on drug trafficking charges last week. Since Thursday, the cartel has launched an “armed strike” by confining inhabitants on its traditional territory to their homes and threatening businesses.


Odds and Ends

Never mind that noise you heard. Heavy metal band Metallica may find its way into more maternity wards after a fan in Brazil delivered her baby boy at the band’s concert in Curitiba moments before the show was about to end. Joice Figueiró said she went into labor while the band still had three songs to play, and she delivered with the help of emergency medical personnel during the band’s rendition of “Enter Sandman.” Despite joking about naming her son after members of the band, Figueiró has settled on a more traditional name: Luan.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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