The people of Sri Lanka, who have been in the grip of a terrible economic crisis for decades, are celebrating the New Year in a protest rally near the country’s presidential office. They have been protesting for six days demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Qatar-based Al-Jazeera reported.
Elderly people crippled by the Sri Lankan civil war lit stoves, and Buddhist monks recited religious verses aloud. Others lit fireworks and chanted “Let the people’s struggle win”.
Protesters have taken to the streets in and around the entrance to his Gotabay office, blaming the president for the ongoing crisis. The country’s influential Rajapaksa family has been accused of corruption and misrule, calling for him to step down.
Dilani Niranjala joined the protest along with her husband and two sons aged ten and eight. “Sometimes our children would go to their grandparents to celebrate the New Year,” he said. But today we brought them here. So that they can understand the real situation of the country.
“We do not want to lie to them about the situation in the country,” he said. I don’t want them to go to the village and celebrate the new year. At an early age they should learn to know the truth and live by it.
Niranjala’s husband Usitha Gamaz is a taxi driver. He is getting frustrated every day due to high prices of commodities. In his words, I am very happy that this fight is taking place. It gives me new hope and strength. This new year will be unique for us as we take them down from power. That’s what I told the children.
Over the past few months, the people of Sri Lanka have been facing an energy and food crisis. They are being subjected to load shedding every day. Most products are bought with currency. But Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy. The country will have to repay 25 billion in debt over the next five years. 7 billion dollars will have to be paid this year. However, the country’s foreign exchange reserves have decreased.
People have to stand in long lines to buy cooking kerosene, fuel, powdered milk. Doctors warn that the shortage of essential medicines in government hospitals could lead to a dire situation.
Tharushi Nirmani, a 23-year-old student, assisted in distributing food among the protesters. He said the protests were creating unity among people from different communities in Sri Lanka.
“In the past, only two ethnic groups – the Sinhalese and the Tamils - used to celebrate the New Year – but most of those who were with us last night were Muslims,” Nirmani said. This is great unity.
The Sri Lankan government announced on Tuesday that it was suspending repayment of foreign loans. These include bonds, government loans. Payments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be deferred until cooperation and debt are restructured.
The government says the World Bank has given them 10 million to buy essential medicines and equipment. The Ministry of Health is in talks with the World Health Organization and the Asian Development Bank for more funds.
The Rajapaksa family, which has been in power for most of the last two decades, has become the main target of the protests. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has refused to relinquish power. However, due to the ongoing crisis and protests, most members of his cabinet have resigned. Four ministers have been sworn in as caretaker ministers. But most ministries are vacant.