It was the moment when two brothers who had dominated Sri Lanka's politics for nearly 20 years finally went their separate ways.

On May 9, when a crowd of ruling party supporters marched towards activists protesting against a crippling economic crisis, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered police to stop the pro-government mob, fearing violence.

"He was screaming at the police to disperse the crowd," said former media minister Nalaka Godahewa, who said he was with the president at the time.