Colombo: Burdened by growing food crisis and shortages of fuel and gas, Sri Lankans launched an island-wide ‘hartal’ on Friday, giving ultimatum to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government to resign by March 11.
Organised by the trade unions representing different state sector institutions, the hartal brought the entire country to a standstill as the private sector, including various trades, banks, exporting companies such as the apparel sector stayed away from work.
Public protests were conducted in almost all the cities demanding the government to step down immediately.
“What we did today was only to tell Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down. If he doesn’t leave by May 11, we will launch island-wide trade union action using over 2,000 trade unions, and will bring the country to a continuous standstill. There will be no electricity, water, gas and fuel,” Lal Bangamuwage, President of Independent Harbour Trade Union, told the media.
Meanwhile, the police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of university students and public who blocked all entrances to the Parliament, protesting against 225 lawmakers from all parties for their failure to solve the current crisis.
The protesters complained that all the lawmakers have failed and demanded their immediate resignation.
On Thursday, the police barricaded entrances to the Parliament to prevent the protesters from entering but the university students who damaged several iron barricades camped outside the Parliament overnight. People served them food and drinks.
In a symbolic gesture in their protest against the government and President Rajapaksa, people on Friday hung underpants on the police barricades, and some of them were painted with slogans ‘Gota go home’.
“We only have this, so take this as well,” a protester said as he removed his underwear in public and hung it on the police barricade.
At the Parliament, the main opposition, which had filed two no-confidence motions to oust President Rajapaksa and the government lead by his elder brother Mahinda, demanded the Speaker to fix the date for voting.
However, the government on Tuesday in a voting to select a deputy speaker proved that it still holds comfortable majority in the Parliament, signalling that it could defeat the no-confidence motions too.
Going through the worst economic crisis and facing rocketing inflation, people for more than a month have taken to the streets and have blocked the entrance to the President’s office. Ten days ago, they camped outside the Prime Minister’s official residence, demanding the government to step down.
With no cooking gas available in the market along with many other essentials, including food, milk powder and medicine, people have been forced to stand in queues for many hours to purchase fuel, that too in limited quantities.
With less than $50 million dollar forex reserves in hand, Sri Lanka’s total debt is $51 billion with $7 billion due by the end of 2022.
In April, the country announced defaulting of all external debts and is in discussion with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restructure loans.
India has helped assisting the talks with the IMF and has provided nearly $3 billion financial support, including rice, medicine, fuel and currency swaps.
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