Colombo, Sri Lanka ( Associated Press) – Supporters of the government attacked protesters camping outside the office of Sri Lanka’s prime minister on Monday, as trade unions began a “week of protest”, calling for a change of government and the country’s president. There was a demand to leave the post. Worst economic crisis in memory.
The Indian Ocean island nation is on the verge of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign debts. Its economic crisis has triggered a political crisis, with the government facing widespread opposition and a no-confidence motion in parliament.
Supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa rallied inside his office on Monday, urging him to ignore the demands of protesters to step down and remain in office.
After the meeting, he went in front of the office where the protesters have been demonstrating for several days. Local television channel Sirsa showed pro-government supporters attacking protesters with clubs, demolishing and later burning their tents.
Meanwhile, trade unions called for protests throughout the week on Monday, said trade union activist Saman Ratnapriya, and more than 1,000 unions representing health, ports, education and other key service sectors joined the movement in a “week of protest”. have joined.
He said that during the week, workers would demonstrate at their workplaces across the country. At the end of the week, they will launch a massive march to parliament, demanding the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and a new government.
For several months, Sri Lankans have faced long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of them from abroad. Hard currency crunch has also hampered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which rose to 18.7% in March.
People blocked the main roads demanding gas and fuel. On Sunday, local television channel Heeru showed people fighting for fuel in some areas.
Sri Lanka was to pay $7 billion of its external debt this year, of which about $25 billion will have to be repaid by 2026. Its total external debt is $51 billion.
Sri Lanka’s finance minister announced earlier this week that the country’s usable foreign reserves had dwindled. below $50 million.
As oil prices surge during the Russia-Ukraine conflictSri Lanka’s fuel reserves are running out. Officials have announced that power cuts across the country will be reduced to about four a day as they cannot supply enough fuel to power generating stations.
Protesters reached the entrance of the President’s office on the 31st day demanding Rajapaksa’s resignation.
Protesters in the presidential office are demanding that the president, his elder brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and other powerful Rajapaksa family members step down. Similar protests have spread to other places, with people setting up camps in front of the prime minister’s residence and in other cities across the country.
So far, the Rajapaksa brothers have resisted calls to resign, although three out of five Rajapaksa, who were legislators, have resigned from their cabinet posts. in April.
Protesters have crowded the streets since the march, maintaining that Rajapaksa and his family – who have dominated almost every aspect of life in Sri Lanka over the past 20 years – are to blame for the crisis.
Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on Friday, which empowers him to take into custody, confiscate property and authorize search of any premises. He can also change or suspend any law in the interest of public safety and for the maintenance of essential supplies. Diplomats and rights groups have expressed concern over the move.
Sri Lanka is in talks with the International Monetary Fund to get an immediate financing facility as well as a long-term rescue plan, but was told its progress would depend on negotiations on debt restructuring with creditors.
Any long-term planning will take at least six months to begin with.