Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is in the grip of unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute foreign exchange shortage that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel and other items. essential.
Protesters blame Rajapaksa for the country’s economic malaise, the worst since independence in 1948.
Last week, Wickremesinghe announced in Parliament that Sri Lanka would submit a debt restructuring program to the IMF in August to secure a rescue package, stressing that negotiations with the global lender were more complex and difficult than in the past because the country was bankrupt.
The country, with an acute currency crisis that resulted in the non-payment of foreign debt, had announced in April that it would suspend the payment of almost USD 7 billion of foreign debt due this year of around USD 25 billion due. until 2026.
Sri Lanka’s total external debt amounts to USD 51 billion.
Saturday’s protest is the largest protest so far in Sri Lanka. Protesters also clashed with railway authorities in the provincial cities of Galle, Kandy and Matara as protesters forced authorities to run trains to Colombo.
Large contingents of police, special forces and the Army had been deployed in the area.
Organizers of the ‘All Country to Colombo’ movement said people were walking from the suburbs to join the protesters at Colombo Fort.
The protesters said they will not budge until Rajapaksa steps down as president.
Political and economic instability could derail Sri Lanka’s long-awaited $3 billion bailout package from the IMF, analysts have warned.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung on Friday urged the country’s armed forces and police to allow peaceful protests.
Violence is not an answer… Chaos and force will not fix the economy or bring the political stability that Sri Lankans need right now, he tweeted.