Sri Lankans occupy the entrance to the President’s office for the 2nd day | United States government and politics

April 10, 2022

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By KRISHAN FRANCIS – Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan protesters occupied the entrance to the president’s office for a second day on Sunday, demanding the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa following the debt-ridden country’s worst economic crisis in memory.

Hundreds of protesters weathered heavy rain with raincoats and umbrellas and chanted anti-government slogans. Some have called for the entire parliament to be dissolved to make way for a younger leadership.

“We will stay, we won’t leave until we chase them away,” Sanjeewa Pushpakumara, a 32-year-old ex-soldier, said of Rajapaksa, his influential family and all lawmakers.

Pushpakumara said he fought in the later stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war with ethnic Tamil rebels, which government soldiers defeated in 2009 after 2 1/2 decades. Rajapaksa, who was a powerful defense bureaucrat, and his older brother Mahinda, who was then president and is currently prime minister, were credited with the victory.

“We will send them home, collect people’s money and send them to jail,” Pushpakumara said. “These people are destroying the country we saved and it’s sad to see the army and the police protecting them.”

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Supporters distributed food, water and raincoats to protesters.

The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, struggling with $25 billion in external debt – nearly $7 billion of which is due this year alone – and dwindling foreign exchange reserves. Talks with the International Monetary Fund are expected later this month, and the government has turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.

For months, Sri Lankans have lined up to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which comes from abroad and is paid for in hard currency. The fuel shortage caused rolling power cuts lasting several hours a day.

Much of the anger expressed by weeks of mounting protests has been directed at the Rajapaksa family, which has been in power for most of the past two decades.

Critics accuse the Rajapaksa brothers of borrowing heavily to finance unprofitable projects, such as a port facility built with Chinese loans.

SD Prageeth Madush, a 36-year-old businessman, spent the night at the protest site.

“When the people ask you to leave, you should go democratically,” Madush said. “Everyone can see that the people don’t like him (the president) anymore, but he doesn’t like letting go of power.”

” I will stay. We have to face difficulties if we want to provide a better future for our children,” he said.

The crisis and the protests triggered the Cabinet’s resignation last Sunday. Four ministers have been sworn in as guardians, but most key portfolios are vacant.

Rajapaksa proposed the creation of a unity government but the main opposition party rejected the idea. Parliament failed to reach a consensus on how to handle the crisis after nearly 40 ruling coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote under the coalition’s instructions, significantly weakening the government.

With the opposition parties divided, they too were unable to show their majority and take control of parliament.

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