Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has called on protesters to end weeks of mass protests that have called on the government to resign amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has called on protesters to end weeks of mass protests that have called for the government to resign in the face of the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
In a televised address to the nation, Rajapaksa said the government is launching a plan to rebuild the country and that “every second” protesters spend demonstrating in the streets takes away opportunities for them to receive crucial foreign currency.
Protesters, meanwhile, continued to occupy the entrance to the president’s office for a third day on Monday, demanding his resignation.
Talks with the International Monetary Fund are expected later this month, and the government has turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.
Mahinda Rajapaksa blamed the currency crisis on COVID-19 related restrictions and the loss of crucial tourism revenue.
“We are embarking on a huge program to overcome the crisis we face today. Every second spent by the president and this government is used in exhausting ways to rebuild our country,” he said.
“My friends, every second you demonstrate in the streets, our country loses opportunities to receive potential dollars,” he said.
Much of the anger expressed by weeks of mounting protests has been directed at the Rajapaksa family, which has been in power for most of the past two decades. Critics accuse the family of borrowing heavily to finance projects that have failed to bring in money, such as a port facility built with Chinese loans.
Supporters of the encamped protesters provided drinking water, food and tea while ambulances and medics stood ready to deal with any health emergency. Muslim protesters broke their Ramadan fast at the site by sharing food with those around them.
Dinush Thyagaraja, a 29-year-old tourism professional, said he voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the 2019 presidential election, believing he was the best candidate to restore national security after losing a friend in the Easter Sunday suicide bombings that year against hotels and churches. .
More than 260 people died in the attack carried out by local Muslim groups inspired by the Islamic State group.
“I realize I made a mistake and I want to rectify that,” Thyagaraja said. “I can’t feed my family, I don’t know if we’ll be able to enjoy a meal in another month to come.”
Even Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political allies have demanded that he be replaced by an interim prime minister and a multi-party government. They say they don’t want the powerful Rajapaksa family in a caretaker government because they are at the center of public anger.
In his speech, Rajapaksa refused to hand over power, saying the ruling coalition will continue to rule Sri Lanka because opposition parties have rejected calls for a unified government.
The crisis and the protests prompted many Cabinet members to resign. Four ministers have been sworn in as guardians, but most key portfolios are vacant.
Parliament failed to reach a consensus on how to handle the crisis after nearly 40 ruling coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote under the coalition’s instructions, significantly weakening the government.
With the opposition parties divided, they too were unable to form a majority and take control of parliament.