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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sri Lankan PM resigns after weeks of street protests

By Krishna Francis, Bharat Mallavarachi and Krutika Pathi. The Associated Press

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on Monday, demanding that he and his brother, the president, step down to drag the country into its worst economic crisis in decades.

Rajapaksa said on Twitter that he submitted his resignation to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a move that prompted authorities to deploy armed troops to the capital Colombo, following a violent attack by government supporters on protesters. There was no immediate comment from the President’s Office.

For more than a month, the protest has spread across the country, attracting people from across ethnic, religion and class. For the first time, middle-class Sri Lankans also took to the streets in large numbers, marking a dramatic revolt by many former Rajapaksa supporters, some of whom spent weeks protesting outside the presidential office.

The protests have sparked a political backlash, with the government facing a no-confidence motion in parliament, and a dramatic fall in favor of Sri Lanka’s most powerful political dynasty, Rajapaksa, for decades. The brothers were once revered as many of the island’s Buddhist-Sinhalese majority heroes for ending the country’s 30-year civil war, and despite accusations of war atrocities, both still remained firmly at the top of Sri Lankan politics. were established.

The prime minister’s resignation comes at a time when the country’s economy has rapidly unraveled in recent weeks, causing extraordinary suffering to the Sri Lankan people. Imports of everything from milk to fuel have declined, leading to severe food shortages and power outages. People are forced to stand in line for hours to buy essential items. Doctors have warned of a serious shortage of life-saving drugs in hospitals, and the government has suspended payments of $7 billion in foreign debt due this year alone.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa initially blamed global factors for Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, such as the pandemic battering its tourism industry and the Russia-Ukraine conflict pushing up global oil prices. But both he and his brother have since acknowledged the mistakes that have escalated the crisis, including admitting that they should have called for an International Monetary Fund bailout sooner.

Sri Lanka is in talks with the IMF to set up a rescue plan, but its progress depends on talks on debt restructuring with creditors. Any long-term planning will take at least six months to begin with.

Before the Ukraine war raised food prices and made things worse, Sri Lanka was in financial trouble.

The Sri Lankan government is running into a huge budget deficit after cutting taxes in 2019 and struggling to collect taxes during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also piled up massive foreign debt – much of it owed to China – and has little foreign exchange reserves to pay for imports and protect its troubled currency, the rupee.

Sri Lanka topped the list compiled by Liliana Rojas-Suarez of the Center for Global Development, which ranks the countries most affected by financial shocks. Those most vulnerable are dependent on commodity imports and have less foreign exchange reserves than other countries.

Monday’s violence sparked widespread anger, with people ousting supporters of Rajapaksa and attacking him in many parts of the country. The homes of some government ministers and politicians who supported Rajapaksa were also attacked and some were set on fire.

Jaydev Uyangoda, a veteran political scientist from Colombo, said the prime minister’s resignation was “a very important development” and marked a new chapter in the country’s political crisis. “The prime minister had to resign in humiliation after his supporters indulged in such violence,” he said.

He said it was a “very serious blow” to Rajapaksa and it would be difficult for the president to maintain credibility after the attack.

But the President has so far refused to resign and will have to go through a tedious process if Parliament tries to remove him. The resignation of the Prime Minister means that the entire cabinet has been dissolved.

Earlier on Monday, supporters of the prime minister attacked protesters who had been demonstrating outside the prime minister’s official residence for weeks, beating them with sticks of wood and iron. He then went to the President’s Office, where he attacked the protesters there and set their camps on fire.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons at the protest site, but this was not enough to control the crowd.

The attack came despite a state of emergency declared Friday by the president, which gave him broad riot control powers.

Hundreds of armed soldiers were deployed in the capital, as protesters accused police of not stopping an attack on Friday despite using tear gas and water cannons at protesters.

“The police did not protect us, so we have taken it into our own hands,” said Druvi Jinsena, who was helping to block roads to protect the protest site.

An official at Colombo’s main hospital said 173 people were treated, mostly with minor injuries, though 15 were seriously injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to speak to the media.

The country’s foreign reserves have fallen below $50 million and owes about $25 billion in foreign debt to be paid off by 2026. Its total external debt is $51 billion.

Meanwhile, popular anger in the Rajapaksa clan has only grown. Observers say the resignations and violence have also increased pressure on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.

Bhavani Fonseca, a senior researcher at the Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternatives, said: “For the past several weeks, the president has been under pressure to resign, but he hasn’t paid much attention to it.”

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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