Thousands of Sri Lankans protest the government’s handling of the crisis

Police Special Force officers try to stop demonstrators during a protest against rising cost of living in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s waterfront office in Colombo on March 18, 2022.

PHOTO: Ishara S. Kodikara / AFP

  • Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has left people unable to afford necessities such as fuel, food and medicine.
  • The protesters are calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.
  • Rajapaksa faces the possibility of a no-confidence motion later in the week.

Thousands of supporters of Sri Lanka’s opposition parties rallied in Colombo, the commercial capital, on Sunday as the week-long political and economic crisis showed no signs of abating.

Sri Lanka’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Dwindling foreign exchange reserves have left the island nation of 22 million struggling to pay for fuel, food and medicine imports and brought thousands onto the streets in daily protests that have occasionally turned violent.

On Sunday, opposition parties ended a week-long march from the central city of Kandy, with thousands of supporters packing Colombo’s Independence Square.

Many carried Sri Lankan flags and wore headbands reading “Gota Go Home,” one of the main rallying cries of the protests.

“Many people are suffering from the cost of fuel and food. There are queues for everything,” said Sunil Shantha, a 58-year-old university professor who said he voted for Rajapaksa in the last presidential election in 2019.

“Gotabaya is a failed president.”

Rajapaksa was hit by mass resignations from his cabinet earlier this month and now faces the prospect of a no-confidence vote in his reformed government later this week.

Both he and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, have refused to step down, instead calling for a unity government led by the president, an offer the opposition rejects.

“Once again, I invite all political party leaders in (Sri Lanka) to come to a consensus on behalf of the people,” Rajapaksa said in a tweet on Sunday.

“It is my sincere wish to call on people to unite to lead a fight for the people, putting aside political differences.”

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