Sri Lankans mark new year at protest camp near president’s office

Protesters share milk rice and oil cakes to celebrate the traditional new year near Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office, where they have camped out for six days.

Sri Lankans have shared milk rice and oil cakes to celebrate their traditional new year opposite the president’s office, where they have camped out for six days demanding his resignation over the worst economic crisis in memory.

Veterans who were disabled in the island nation’s civil war lit a hearth on Thursday, Buddhist monks chanted religious verses and others set off firecrackers amid chants of “Victory to the people’s struggle!”

Protesters are occupying the entrance and surroundings of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office, holding him responsible for the economic situation. They also are calling for his powerful family to leave power, accusing them of corruption and misrule.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Other days our children go to their grandparents to celebrate the new year, but today we brought them here to show them the real situation in the country,” said Dilani Niranjala, who attended the protest with her husband and two sons aged 10 and 8.

“We don’t want to lie to them about what’s going on in the country and go to our village to celebrate the new year. From their younger days, they should see the truth and live with the truth,” she added.

Niranjala’s husband, Usitha Gamage, who works as a taxi driver, said he had been discouraged by the daily news about skyrocketing living costs.

“I am so happy that this struggle is taking place and it gives me new hope and energy,” he said.

“The new year – after we chase them out – is going to be great for us. This is what I have told my children,” he added.

Sri Lankans have in recent months endured fuel and food shortages and daily power outages.

Most of those items are paid for in hard currency, but Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy, saddled with dwindling foreign reserves and $25bn in foreign debt repayments over the next five years. Nearly $7bn is due this year.

People have been forced to wait in long lines to buy cooking gas, fuel and milk powder, and doctors have warned there is a potentially catastrophic shortage of essential medicines in government hospitals.

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