Thousands of people have taken this Saturday the residence of the president of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya Rajapaksain the explosion of a popular revolution that culminates months of protests against the authorities due to the devastating economic crisis that is plaguing the nation, the most serious since the declaration of its independence from the United Kingdom in 1948.
The streets of the country’s capital, Colomboare now packed with hundreds of thousands of people who have joined the massive concentration that began early this morning, led by the country’s Buddhist monks and supported by civil associations, artists, teachers, writers and other professionals , in the midst of skirmishes with the Police, calm right now after repelling the first incursion attempts with shots in the air and tear gas.
Medical balances estimate at least 33 wounded, two critical, including two policemen, due to the violence unleashed hours before the incursion, when the Police had to intervene with shots in the air and tear gas to prevent the protesters from taking the barracks near the residence, Chatham Street. After taking the presidential residence, another group of protesters has entered the president’s offices in the capital and a third concentration is right outside the country’s Central Bank.
The country’s president is currently missing, but sources close to the president assure that he will respect the decision made by the country’s prime minister and former rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the leaders of the political parties related to the president at the emergency meeting which has already started. The country’s main opposition United People Power (SJB), which does not recognize the prime minister, has announced that it will not participate in the meeting and has demanded the resignation of both the president and the head of government.
The SJB is not alone in its requests. The sri lanka bar association, one of the most prominent civil organizations in the country, has asked the president to begin considering the possibility of resigning. Also, the executive committee of the association demands the Prime Minister of the country as well as his Council of Ministers and the Parliament to take immediate measures to guarantee the political stability of the country.
Also the pro-reformist group Podujana Peramuna has asked the president to resign immediately, given the current situation in the country. The statement, also picked up by News First, calls for the formation of “a concentration government, with the participation of all members of Parliament, under a suitable prime minister.”
The Sri Lankan protests began in early March in the midst of an economic crisis the likes of which the country has never known in its history, marked by unaffordable rises in fuel prices, lack of access to basic necessities, cuts in supply electricity, record levels of inflation — which could reach a rise of 70 percent year-on-year in the coming months — and an accumulated external debt of almost 50,000 million euros.
The Sri Lankan authorities have been criticized by international organizations for the excessive harshness used to repress demonstrations that have left at least a dozen civilians dead, more than 200 injured and more than 600 detained.
The population has come to blame the Rajapaksa clan for making decisions that have led to severe shortages of everything from fuel to medicine, inflation close to 55 percent — with 70 percent forecast in the coming months — daily blackouts of up to 13 hours, a historical non-payment of the debt and the impossibility of accessing gasoline or diesel.
In an attempt to contain the protests, the president pressured his brother and prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to resign from office along with the rest of his government. In his place emerged Wickremesinghe, another old acquaintance of Sri Lankan politics, who has already held that same position on up to four occasions and who is seen by the opposition, despite his previous brushes with the president, as an absolutely continuist.
In fact, earlier this month, Sri Lanka became the first country in the world to restrict the sale of fuel citizens since the oil crisis of the 1970s through a decree in which owners of private vehicles are prohibited from using gas stations until July 10.
The nation also needs some $6 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and from countries like India and China to get ahead during the next six months, according to the prime minister. Local authorities have spent the last few weeks speeding up bailout talks with the IMF and other agencies to secure other new sources of finance.
The prime minister has spent the last few months promoting talks with the IMF to obtain the aid loan while President Rajapaksa has negotiated with China the beginning of a process to restructure the repayment of the debt that his country has contracted with the Asian giant due to the impact of the crisis caused by the coronavirus.
It must be remembered that, prior to this crisis, Sri Lanka had been benefiting for years from billions of dollars coming from China in the form of loans; a program that has exploded in the form of the current currency crisis.
Critics use Sri Lanka as an example of the “debt trap” to which China is subjecting several countries in the world, especially African ones, forced according to them to make exaggerated commercial or diplomatic concessions to delay repayments. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded to this criticism, which he described as a “narrative” pushed by “those who don’t want to see these countries get out of poverty.”