Pressure on Sri Lankan leader to step down as crisis escalates

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) – Thousands of Sri Lankans rallied in the country’s main business district and Christian clergy marched in the capital on Saturday to observe a day of protest and call for the debt-ridden country’s president to resign. Did. The shortage hurts.

Demonstrators carrying national flags and placards, some lamenting hardships through songs, blamed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his administration for mismanagement of the crisis. He has remained determined to refuse to step down even after he left most of his cabinet and revolts by loyalist lawmakers have reduced a way for him to find a way as his team continues to negotiate with international lending institutions. is preparing for.

“Go home Rajapakse” and “We need responsible leadership,” read the placards.

The protest also included a large number of youths who had organized themselves through social media and refused to accept any political leadership. Many put up signs saying “You’ve messed with the wrong generation!”

Protesters remained around the President’s office and vowed not to leave until the completion of their mission.

For months, Sri Lankans have been standing in long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicines, most of whom come from abroad and are paid in hard currency. Lack of fuel leads to power cuts lasting several hours a day.

The Indian Ocean island nation is on the verge of bankruptcy, troubled by $25 billion in foreign debt over the next five years – about $7 billion this year alone – and dwindling foreign reserves. Talks with the International Monetary Fund are expected later this month, and the government had turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.

Much of the anger expressed by weeks of escalating protests has been directed at Rajapaksa and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who heads an influential clan that has been in power for the past two decades. Five other members of the family are MLAs, three of whom had resigned as ministers last Sunday.

Lawyer Takshashila Jaisinghe, 35, who joined the protest, said she regretted voting for Rajapaksa in the 2019 presidential election. “I wonder what sin I have committed by voting for this president when I see people suffering,” she said.

Reports said that at least four elderly people died while standing in line for hours trying to buy cooking gas or kerosene.

Jaisinghe said he voted for Rajapaksa as the best candidate to restore national security after the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, which killed more than 260 people. Attacks on local Muslim militants with links to the Islamic State group have shattered the pandemic as well as the tourism industry, depriving Sri Lanka of hard currency.

At the same time, critics accused Rajapaksa of borrowing heavily to finance projects that made no money, such as a port facility built with Chinese debt.

Catholic priests and laymen attend a rally from the “martyr cemetery” in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo, where more than 100 people killed in suicide attacks at St. Sebastian’s Church in the area are buried.

He protested the economic crisis as well as the government’s alleged failure to uncover the conspirators behind the bombings.

“Today the country needs a major change and a new beginning,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, told the protesters. “We ask every citizen of this country to come together and change this system. To come together and tell these people to leave. ,

“Now that’s enough, it’s destroying the country, now leave it and hand it over to someone who can rule this country,” he said.

The protest later moved to the Anglican Cathedral in Colombo.

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has criticized the investigation into the bombings, citing allegations that some members of state intelligence units knew and met at least one of the attackers.

Rajapaksa had previously proposed a unity government after the resignation of the cabinet, but the main opposition party rejected the idea. Parliament has failed to reach a consensus on how to deal with the crisis after nearly 40 governing Coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote according to the Coalition’s directives, weakening the government.

Due to the split of the opposition parties, they are also not able to show majority and control the Parliament.

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