Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

Sri Lanka | Anti-Government Protest Continues To Rattle The Island Country : Key Developments

Sri Lanka | Anti-Government Protest Continues To Rattle The Island Country : Key Developments

The anti-government protesters in Sri Lanka on Sunday continued to occupy the residences of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, a day after they stormed into the premises and set on fire one of the buildings protesting over the nation's severe economic crisis

Representational Image
Representational Image AP

Thousands of irate anti-government protesters in Sri Lanka on Saturday stormed into embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence in central Colombo's high-security Fort area after breaking the barricades, as they demanded his resignation over the island nation's worst economic crisis in recent memory. The protesters also torched the private residence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe even after he offered to resign.

Prices have risen in recent months and the country has been suffering from grave shortages of essentials like cooking gas, vehicular fuel, edibles, and thermal fuel to produce electricity.

Here's an acount of the key developments of the ongoing protest and its ramifications.

Announcement of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's resignation

Sri Lankan Parliamentary Speaker has said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has agreed to resign on July 13. The announcement comes late in the day that saw several thousands of Sri Lankan take to streets of national capital Colombo and storming of the President's House, the Presidential Secretariat, and the burning of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's house. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday offered to resign and form an all-party government, hours after thousands of protesters stormed the official residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who appears to have gone underground in the face of massive public anger over an unprecedented economic crisis that has brought Sri Lanka to its knees.

Sri Lankan Army seeks public support for peaceful resolution

Sri Lankan Army chief says opportunity to resolve crisis peacefully now available; seeks public support to maintain peace

Sri Lankan Army chief General Shavendra Silva on Sunday said that an opportunity to resolve the current political crisis in a peaceful manner is now available and sought the people's support to maintain peace in the island nation, hours after embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed to step down on July 13.

In a brief statement, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Silva said that an opportunity has arisen to resolve the current crisis in a peaceful manner.

He requested all Sri Lankans to support the Armed Forces and the Police to ensure that peace is maintained in the country, Colombo Gazette news portal reported.

The statement was issued following the violence seen at Galle Face and Fort on Saturday and near the private residence of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.

Economic meltdown in Sri Lanka 

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials. 

Sri Lanka's crisis is largely the result of staggering economic mismanagement combined with fallout from the pandemic, which along with 2019 terrorism attacks devastated its important tourism industry. The coronavirus crisis also disrupted the flow of remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad. 

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.

The government took on big debts and slashed taxes in 2019, depleting the treasury just as COVID-19 hit. Foreign exchange reserves plummeted, leaving Sri Lanka unable to pay for imports or defend its beleaguered currency, the rupee. 

Ordinary Sri Lankans - especially the poor - are paying the price. They wait for days for cooking gas and petrol in lines that can extend more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles). Sometimes, like Chamila Nilanthi, they go home with nothing. 

Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.  

IMF closely monitoring situation in Lanka

The IMF on Sunday said that it was closely monitoring the ongoing developments in Sri Lanka and hoped that the political crisis will be resolved soon to allow for the resumption of dialogue on an IMF-supported programme in the cash-starved country. 

The IMF has concluded a round of policy-level talks with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who is also Finance Minister and there were some financial issues to be resolved. At the same time, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said the monetary programme targets were wrapped up.

“We are closely monitoring the ongoing developments in Sri Lanka,” Peter Breuer, IMF Senior Mission Chief for Sri Lanka, and Masahiro Nozaki, IMF Mission Chief for Sri Lanka said in a statement on Sunday.

“We hope to resolve the current situation that will allow for the resumption of our dialogue on an IMF-supported programme, while we plan to continue technical discussions with our counterparts in the Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Sri Lanka,” Economy Next reported on Sunday.

An interim budget was also due in July or August.

Protestors unearthed cash from President Rajapaksa's house

The anti-government protesters have claimed to have recovered millions of rupees inside his mansion, according to a media report on Sunday.

A video is being shared on social media showing the protesters counting the currency notes that were unearthed. The recovered money was said to be handed over to the security units, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported.

Authorities have informed that they will take steps to announce the ground situation after probing the relevant facts, the daily reported.

Police arrest 3 for setting PM's house on fire

Sri Lankan police on Sunday arrested three people for setting Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s private residence on fire a day earlier, amidst massive anti-government protests, media reports said.  

Among those arrested include a 19-year-old Mount Lavinia resident and two residents of Galle, aged 24 and 28 respectively, web portal Colombo Page reported, quoting the Police Spokesman SSP Nihal Talduwa.  

More arrests are on the anvil, as the police have widened their scope of investigations, he said.  

Talduwa said the suspects are currently in the custody of Colpetty Police, and will be produced in court later on Sunday, web portal Lanka First reported.  

(With PTI Inputs)