Take Holiday To Grow Food, Sri Lanka Tells Civil Servants

Sri Lanka is letting public servants take three-day weekends to grow crops at home in hopes of blunting an anticipated food shortage. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA /AFP)

 

 

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka is asking civil servants to take an extra day off each week to grow crops in their backyards in a bid to forestall a looming food shortage.

The island nation’s unprecedented economic downturn has left several staple foods in short supply, along with petrol and medicines, and rampant inflation is ravaging household budgets.

“It seems appropriate to grant government officials leave for one working day of the week and provide them with the necessary facilities to engage in agricultural activities in their backyards,” a cabinet statement said Tuesday.

The extra day off would be a “solution to the food shortage that is expected to occur in the future”, the statement read, adding that cutting down on civil servant commutes would also help reduce fuel consumption.

Last week the United Nations warned Sri Lanka was facing a “dire humanitarian crisis”, and said four out of five people in the nation of 22 million were forced to skip meals.

Motorists, meanwhile, have suffered through months of chronic petrol and diesel shortages, and long queues of vehicles outside filling stations are a regular sight around the country.

Public employees will have every Friday off for the next three months without a pay cut, according to the cabinet decision, but the arrangement will not apply to essential services staff.

The government also said any members of the 1.5 million-strong public sector who wanted to travel abroad to find work would be given up to five years of unpaid leave without affecting their seniority or pensions.

The move is aimed at encouraging more people to get foreign jobs and send money back to the island, which is labouring under a critical shortage of foreign currency to buy imports.

Sri Lanka has defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Public protests have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over mismanagement of the country’s economy and the severe hardships facing its people.

Rajapaksa introduced sweeping tax cuts soon after coming to power in November that have been blamed for leaving the island without the means to pay for essential imports.

The cash shortfall was worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, which savaged the local tourism industry and cut remittances sent back home by Sri Lankans working abroad.

Sri Lanka President Set To Name New PM

In this file photo, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa arrives to take the oath of office during his swearing-in ceremony at the Ruwanwelisaya temple in Anuradhapura on November 18, 2019. Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

 

Beleaguered President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was set to name a new prime minister Thursday to try to steer Sri Lanka out of its dire economic crisis after days of violence, officials said.

Respected five-time former premier Ranil Wickremesinghe was the frontrunner to head a “unity government” with cross-party support in the 225-member parliament and replace Rajapaksa’s elder brother Mahinda who stepped down on Monday.

“A swearing-in is likely today unless there is a last-minute hiccup,” a senior official close to the president told AFP.

In a televised address to the nation on Wednesday night, Rajapaksa stopped short of yielding to weeks of nationwide protests calling for him to resign.

The country of 22 million people is in its worst economic crisis since independence with severe shortages of food, fuel, and medicines and long power cuts.

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But in a bid to win over the opposition who wanted Rajapaksa to quit, the 72-year-old pledged to give up most of his executive powers and set up a new cabinet this week.

“I will name a prime minister who will command a majority in parliament and the confidence of the people,” Rajapaksa said in the televised speech.

Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned as prime minister on Monday after his supporters attacked anti-government supporters and ran riot in Colombo.

This unleashed several days of violence that killed at least nine people and injured more than 200, with dozens of Rajapaksa loyalist homes set on fire.

Security forces patrolling in armoured personnel carriers with orders to shoot on sight anyone engaged in looting or violence have since cracked down on public disorder.

A curfew was lifted Thursday morning only to be reimposed after a six-hour break allowing people to stock up on essentials.

The main opposition SJB party was initially invited to lead a new government, but its leader Sajith Premadasa insisted that the president first step down.

However, about a dozen MPs from the SJB pledged support to Wickremesinghe, 73, who has been prime minister five times since 1993 and is seen as a pro-West free-market reformist.

Wickremesinghe is the only legislator from his United National Party (UNP) which was routed at the August 2020 election that gave Rajapaksa a two-thirds majority.

With the economic crisis, the Rajapaksa government began to unravel with mass defections to the opposition, but since April no group in the 225-member assembly enjoys an absolute majority.

Sri Lanka is in talks with the International Monetary Fund and others about a bailout package after a shortage of foreign currency forced it to default on its foreign debts last month.

The island nation’s central bank chief warned Wednesday that the economy will “collapse” unless a new government was urgently appointed.

AFP

Sri Lanka PM Quits As Violence Kills 3, Injures 150

Demonstrators and government supporters clash outside the official residence of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, in Colombo on May 9, 2022. Sri Lankan police imposed a curfew on May 9 after clashes between rival political camps, as anger builds over the island’s worst economic crisis since independence.
ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa quit on Monday after a day of violence that saw three people including an MP killed and over 150 wounded as government supporters armed with sticks and clubs attacked protestors.

Lawmaker Amarakeerthi Athukorala from the ruling party shot two people — killing a 27-year-old man — and then himself after being surrounded by a mob of anti-government protestors outside the city, police said.

Sri Lanka has suffered months of blackouts and dire shortages of food, fuel and medicines in its worst economic crisis since independence, sparking weeks of overwhelmingly peaceful anti-government demonstrations.

On Monday scores of Rajapaksa loyalists attacked unarmed protesters camping outside the president’s office at the sea-front Galle Face promenade in downtown Colombo since April 9, AFP reporters said.

The violence began after several thousand supporters of the prime minister, brought in buses from rural areas, poured out of his nearby official residence.

Rajapaksa had addressed some 3,000 supporters at his house and pledged he would “protect the interests of the nation.”

The supporters then initially pulled down tents of protesters in front of the prime minister’s Temple Trees residence and torched anti-government banners and placards.

They then marched to the nearby promenade and began destroying other tents set up by the “Gota go home” campaign that demands the president step down.

“We were hit, the media were hit, women and children were hit,” one witness told AFP, asking not to be named.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon and declared an immediate curfew in Colombo which was later widened to include the entire South Asian island nation of 22 million people.

Over 150 injured people were hospitalised, Colombo National Hospital spokesman Pushpa Soysa told AFP.

Officials said the army riot squad was called in to reinforce police. Soldiers have been deployed throughout the crisis to protect deliveries of fuel and other essentials but until now not to prevent clashes.

“Strongly condemn the violent acts taking place by those inciting & participating, irrespective of political allegiances. Violence won’t solve the current problems,” President Rajapaksa tweeted.

– US condemnation –
The US ambassador to Sri Lanka said Washington condemned “the violence against peaceful protestors today, and call(s) on the government to conduct a full investigation, including the arrest & prosecution of anyone who incited violence”.

“Our sympathies are with those injured today and we urge calm and restraint across the island,” Julie Chung tweeted.

MP Athukorala’s car was surrounded in the town of Nittambuwa outside Colombo as he returned home from the capital after the clashes.

“The MP fled the scene and took refuge at a nearby building,” a police official told AFP by telephone. “Thousands surrounded the building and he then took his own life with his revolver.”

Athukorala’s bodyguard was also found dead at the scene, police said.

Opposition MP Sajith Premadasa tried to move into the area after the Colombo clashes, but he came under attack from a mob and his security staff bundled him into a car and drove off.

– ‘Unity government’ –
Mahinda Rajapaksa meanwhile tendered his resignation as prime minister to the president, his brother Gotabaya.

“I am resigning with immediate effect so that you will be able to appoint an all-party government to guide the country out of the current economic crisis,” the prime minister said in the letter, seen by AFP.

The country’s largest opposition party had said before the clashes that it would not join any government helmed by a member of the Rajapaksa clan.

The resignation of the prime minister automatically means the cabinet stands dissolved.

– ‘Restraint’ –
The violence was the worst since police shot dead one protestor and wounded 24 others blockading a railway line and a highway between Colombo and the central city of Kandy on April 19.

On Friday, the government imposed a state of emergency granting the military sweeping powers to arrest and detain people after trade unions brought the country to a virtual standstill.

The defence ministry said in a statement on Sunday that anti-government demonstrators were behaving in a “provocative and threatening manner” and disrupting essential services.

President Rajapaksa has not been seen in public since tens of thousands attempted to storm his private residence in Colombo on March 31.

Sri Lanka’s crisis began after the coronavirus pandemic hammered vital income from tourism and remittances, starving the country of foreign currency needed to pay off its debt and forcing the government to ban the imports of many goods.

This in turn has led to severe shortages, runaway inflation and lengthy power blackouts.

In April, the country announced it was defaulting on its $51 billion foreign debt.

Crisis-Hit Sri Lanka Declares Emergency After Crippling Strike

University students push a coffin with a demonstrator dressed as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country’s crippling economic crisis, near the parliament building in Colombo on May 6, 2022. ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s president  Friday declared a state of emergency for the second time in five weeks, giving security forces sweeping powers amid a nationwide strike by angry demonstrators who blame him for an unprecedented economic crisis.

A spokesman for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he invoked the tough laws to “ensure public order” after shops closed and public transport was halted Friday, bringing the South Asian island nation of 22 million people to a standstill after weeks of unrest.

Earlier Friday, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse students attempting to storm the national parliament demanding Rajapaksa resign.

The emergency gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without judicial supervision.

It also allows the deployment of troops to maintain law and order in addition to police.

The spokesman said the laws will go into effect from midnight Friday.

Beleaguered Rajapaksa had declared an earlier state of emergency on April 1, a day after thousands of protesters attempted to storm his private home in the capital. That emergency was allowed to lapse on April 14.

But protests have escalated since then, fuelling Sri Lanka’s worst crisis since independence in 1948.

The new emergency declaration came as thousands of demonstrators remained outside Rajapaksa’s sea-front office, where they have been protesting since April 9, and smaller groups also tried to storm homes of other key government politicians.

 Storming Parliament 

University students take part in a demonstration demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country’s crippling economic crisis, near the parliament building in Colombo on May 6, 2022. ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

The students’ attempt to storm the tightly-guarded legislature on Friday was their second in as many days.

They and other demonstrators blame Rajapaksa and his ruling family for mismanaging the economy. Months of blackouts and acute shortages of food, fuel and pharmaceuticals have caused widespread suffering across the island.

Millions of workers stayed off work on Friday in the strike, organised by the country’s trade union movement. Train and state-owned bus services were disrupted.

Industrial workers demonstrated outside their factories and black flags were hung across the country in an expression of anger against the government.

“We can pinpoint the policy blunders of the president that led to this very sorry state of our economy,” said trade union leader Ravi Kumudesh. “He must go.”

Private buses, which account for two-thirds of the country’s fleet, were also off the road, Private Bus Operators Association chairman Gemunu Wijeratne said.

“We are not providing services today, but if groups of people want to join the anti-government protests within a radius of 20 kilometres, we will give our buses free of charge,” Wijeratne told reporters in Colombo.

Rajapaksa has insisted he will not step down despite the escalating demonstrations, including the protest outside his office which has forced him to work from home.

Official sources said the president could pressure his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, to step down and allow the formation of a unity government to guide the country out of the economic crisis.

The main opposition SJB party has insisted that it will not take up any role in a national administration unless the president also steps down accepting responsibility for mismanagement and corruption.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis took hold after the coronavirus pandemic hammered income from tourism and remittances.

Unable to pay for fuel imports, utilities have imposed daily blackouts to ration electricity, while long lines of people snake around service stations for petrol and kerosene.

Hospitals are short of vital medicines and the government has appealed to citizens abroad for donations.

Last month Sri Lanka announced it was defaulting on its $51 billion foreign debt, and finance minister Ali Sabry warned this week that the country will have to endure its unprecedented economic hardships for at least two more years.

AFP

Police Shoot Protester Dead, Injure 24 Others In Sri Lanka

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party activists and supporters shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration in Colombo on April 19, 2022, demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation over the country’s crippling economic crisis. Jewel SAMAD / AFP

 

Sri Lanka police shot dead a protester and wounded 24 others on Tuesday in the first fatal clash with residents demonstrating against the government over the island nation’s crippling economic crisis. 

The South Asian country is in the grip of its most painful economic downturn since independence in 1948, with regular blackouts and severe shortages of fuel and other goods causing widespread misery.

Huge protests have called for the resignation of the government, which is preparing to negotiate an urgently needed bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

Police fired live rounds at a crowd that had blockaded a railway line and highway connecting the capital Colombo with the central city of Kandy to protest oil shortages and high prices.

“One man died of gunshot injuries,” a hospital official told AFP by telephone.

Another 16 protesters were wounded, with eight in need of emergency surgery, while a further eight police officers were injured when demonstrators threw back tear gas canisters they had fired at the crowd.

The protest was one of many spontaneous gatherings staged around Sri Lanka on Tuesday after the country’s main petrol retailer hiked prices by nearly 65 percent.

Local media footage showed dozens of police officers wearing anti-riot gear firing tear gas into the crowd.

“Fire, fire and chase them out,” a senior officer is heard shouting while directing his men to attack the crowds with tear gas.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the police to use live rounds.

Police said demonstrators had stopped road and train traffic for hours by the time of the shooting.

A fuel bowser had been parked across railway tracks to block trains while burning tyres were obstructing traffic on the nearby road.

Footage from the local hospital showed victims being rushed into the facility and a man pleading for someone to treat his brother, who had been shot in the abdomen.

“Please rush quickly, my brother is bleeding,” the man shouted.

Tens of thousands of angry motorists blocked arterial roads with parked buses and burning tyre mounds to condemn the latest rise in fuel prices and months of acute shortages.

In the capital Colombo, a large protest crowd has been camped outside the seafront office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for more than a week, demanding the leader step down.

Doctors at Sri Lanka’s main children’s hospital also staged a protest on Tuesday over a severe shortage of medicines and equipment.

‘I deeply regret it’

In a bid to address growing calls for his entire government to resign, Rajapaksa on Monday appointed a new cabinet and acknowledged public anger over the ruling family’s mismanagement.

“People are suffering because of the economic crisis and I deeply regret it,” the president said Monday.

Sri Lanka is seeking three to four billion dollars from the IMF to overcome its balance-of-payments crisis and boost depleted reserves.

Dozens of Rajapaksa’s lawmakers have turned against the administration and on Tuesday took seats on opposition benches in parliament.

Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown began after the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed vital revenue from tourism and remittances.

The government last week announced a default on its $51 billion foreign debt and the Colombo Stock Exchange has suspended trading to prevent an anticipated market collapse.

Rajapaksa’s administration has urged citizens abroad to donate foreign exchange to help pay for desperately needed essentials after announcing a default on its entire external debt.

Colombo has sent a delegation to Washington to open bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund from Tuesday.

AFP

Bankrupt Sri Lanka Begs Diaspora To Send Cash

Motorbikes and three-wheeler vehicles queue to fill their tanks up at a Ceylon Petroleum Corporation fuel station in Colombo on April 12, 2022. . (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

 

 

Sri Lanka urged its citizens overseas to send home money to help pay for desperately needed food and fuel Wednesday after announcing a default on its $51 billion foreign debt.

The island nation is in the grip of its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, with severe shortages of essential goods and regular blackouts causing widespread hardship.

Authorities are weathering intense public anger and spirited protests demanding the government’s resignation ahead of negotiations for an International Monetary Fund bailout.

Central bank governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said he needed Sri Lankans abroad to “support the country at this crucial juncture by donating much needed foreign exchange”.

His appeal came a day after the government announced it was suspending repayments on all external debt, which will free up money to replenish scant supplies of petrol, pharmaceuticals and other necessities.

Weerasinghe said he had set up bank accounts for donations in the United States, Britain and Germany and promised Sri Lankan expatriates the money would be spent where it was most needed.

The bank “assures that such foreign currency transfers will be utilised only for importation of essentials, including food, fuel and medicines”, Weerasinghe said in a statement.

Tuesday’s default announcement will save Sri Lanka about $200 million in interest payments falling due on Monday, he said, adding that the money would be diverted to pay for essential imports.

Weerasinghe’s appeal has so far been greeted with scepticism from Sri Lankans abroad.

“We don’t mind helping, but we can’t trust the government with our cash,” a Sri Lankan doctor in Australia told AFP, asking for anonymity.

A Sri Lankan software engineer in Canada said he had no confidence that the money would be spent on the needy.

“This could go the same way as the tsunami funds,” he told AFP, referring to millions of dollars the island received in aid after the December 2004 disaster, which claimed at least 31,000 lives on the island.

Much of the foreign cash donations meant for survivors was rumoured to have ended up in the pockets of politicians, including current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was forced to return tsunami aid funds credited to his personal account.

– Snowballing crisis –
Sri Lanka’s snowballing economic crisis began to be felt after the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed vital revenue from tourism and remittances.

The government imposed a wide import ban to conserve dwindling foreign currency reserves and use them to service the debts it has now defaulted on.

But the resulting shortages have stoked public resentment, with day-long lines forming across the island for petrol and kerosene, the latter used for cooking stoves in poorer households.

At least eight people have died while waiting in fuel queues since last month.

The country’s Sinhalese and Tamil communities are marking their traditional new year this week but the shortages have sabotaged the ritual of making milk rice at an astrologically auspicious time, with both ingredients scarce.

Economists say the crisis has been made worse by government mismanagement, years of accumulated borrowing and ill-advised tax cuts.

Sri Lanka’s main opposition SJB party said Wednesday that government members responsible for the crisis should face criminal prosecution.

Crowds have attempted to storm the homes of government leaders, and security forces have dispersed protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Thousands of people were camped outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s seafront office in the capital Colombo for a fifth straight day of protests Wednesday calling for him to step down.

Sri Lanka President Loses Parliament Majority As Protests Mount

 

Security forces were deployed across the Sri Lankan capital on April 1 after protesters tried to storm the president’s home in anger at the nation’s worst economic crisis since independence.
Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s president lost his parliamentary majority Tuesday as former allies urged his resignation, following days of street protests over the island nation’s crippling economic crisis.

Severe shortages of food, fuel and other essentials — along with record inflation and crippling power cuts — have inflicted widespread misery in the country’s most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s once-powerful ruling coalition is in turmoil after a string of defections, capped Tuesday by the announcement of the new finance minister’s resignation just one day after taking office.

Public anger is at a fever pitch, with crowds attempting to storm the homes of several government figures since the weekend and large demonstrations elsewhere in the country.

One newly independent lawmaker who broke ranks with the president’s party told parliament it was time for the leader to step down and make room for others to address the worsening crisis.

“If we don’t act now, there will be a river of blood in the country,” said Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

“We have to forget party politics and ensure an interim government.”

Tuesday’s parliamentary session was the first since dozens of MPs withdrew their support for Rajapaksa’s government, including 16 lawmakers from the president’s own Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) and its former coalition allies.

The government is now five short of a majority in the 225-member House, but it was unclear whether legislators would attempt to introduce a no-confidence motion that would compel it to resign.

Opposition parties have already rebuffed his call to join a unity administration helmed by the president and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Their government imposed a state of emergency last week in an effort to quell rising street protests, but the ordinance is set to expire next week without parliamentary approval.

Parliament adjourned for party leaders to decide on an opposition demand to put the emergency to a vote later on Tuesday.

Nimal Lanza, a former minister who has also abandoned Rajapaksa’s administration, conceded that the ruling party no longer had a mandate to govern and threw his support behind the crowds calling for the president’s resignation.

“I worship and appeal to you to take the side of the protesters,” he told parliament, addressing the prime minister, who attended the session but remained silent.

Every member of Sri Lanka’s cabinet except the president and prime minister Mahinda resigned late Sunday, but an overture to opposition parties was rejected within hours.

Former justice minister Ali Sabry was appointed to helm the finance ministry on Monday, replacing the president’s brother Basil Rajapaksa, but abruptly resigned after just one day in office.

“Whilst I regret the inconvenience caused, I believe I have always acted in the best interests of the country,” Sabry said in a statement, adding that a more capable candidate was needed to rescue the country from its parlous financial position.

– Crowds target government homes –
Boisterous demonstrations have spread across the country of 22 million despite the emergency laws allowing troops to detain participants and a weekend curfew that lapsed on Monday morning.

Crowds have attempted to storm the homes of more than a dozen government figures, including the president’s house in Colombo.

Protesters there torched the vehicles of security forces, who responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

Most demonstrations have been peaceful, with Catholic clergy and nuns led by Sri Lanka’s Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith leading a silent procession in the capital.

A critical lack of foreign currency has left Sri Lanka struggling to service its ballooning $51 billion foreign debt, with the pandemic torpedoing vital revenue from tourism and remittances.

The result has seen unprecedented food and fuel shortages along with record inflation and crippling power cuts, with no sign of an end to the economic woes.

Economists say Sri Lanka’s crisis has been exacerbated by government mismanagement, years of accumulated borrowing and ill-advised tax cuts.

The government plans to negotiate an IMF bailout, but talks are yet to begin.

Sri Lanka Parliament Reconvenes After State Of Emergency

Catholic priests and sisters hold placards during a demonstration against the economic crisis in Colombo on April 5, 2022.  (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

 

 

Sri Lanka’s parliament will convene Tuesday in its first session since a state of emergency was imposed as the country grapples with protests and mounting demands for the president’s resignation over a worsening economic crisis.

Severe shortages of food, fuel and other essentials — along with record inflation and crippling power cuts — have inflicted widespread misery across the island nation, which is enduring its most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s once-powerful SLPP ruling coalition suffered a string of defections ahead of the parliamentary session, undermining his ability to ratify a state of emergency imposed on Friday to quell the growing public protests.

The state of emergency is due to expire on Thursday next week unless it is ratified in a parliamentary vote.

As parliament reconvenes, the speaker is obliged to officially inform MPs that the state of emergency has been declared, raising the prospect of opposition demands it be put to a vote immediately — which the government would likely lose.

All opposition parties and even some lawmakers from Rajapaksa’s own party have announced their intention to vote against extending the ordinance.

 

Army prepare to patrol the streets to contain protests over a worsening economic crisis in Colombo on April 5, 2022.  (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

 

“Our party no longer has a mandate to govern,” former minister Nimal Lanza told reporters in the town of Negombo, adding that about 50 lawmakers previously allied with the government would instead sit as independents.

Every member of Sri Lanka’s cabinet except the president and his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, resigned late on Sunday.

But an overture to opposition parties requesting their participation in a unity government was swiftly rejected the next day.

“We will not be joining this government,” Eran Wickramaratne of the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party told AFP. “The Rajapaksa family must step down.”

Boisterous demonstrations have spread across the country of 22 million despite emergency laws allowing troops to detain participants and a weekend curfew that lapsed on Monday morning.

Crowds have attempted to storm the homes of over a dozen government figures including the president’s house in Colombo, where protesters torched the vehicles of security forces, who responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas

However, Wickramaratne told AFP on Monday that the opposition would not be voting for the emergency orders. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow, it is going to be a decisive day.”

A critical lack of foreign currency has left Sri Lanka struggling to service its ballooning $51 billion foreign debt, with the pandemic torpedoing vital revenue from tourism and remittances.

 

Protestors clash with police during a demonstration against the surge in prices and shortage of fuel and other essential commodities at the entrance of the president’s office in Colombo on April 4, 2022. (Photo by Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

 

The result has seen unprecedented food and fuel shortages along with record inflation and crippling power cuts, with no sign of an end to the economic woes.

Economists say Sri Lanka’s crisis has been exacerbated by government mismanagement, years of accumulated borrowing and ill-advised tax cuts.

The government plans to negotiate an IMF bailout, but talks are yet to begin.

VPN Use Spikes In Sri Lanka After Social Media Ban

Sri Lanka’s attempt to contain spiraling protests by blocking popular social media platforms led to an extraordinary spike in the use of censorship-dodging virtual private networks, a tracking firm said Monday.

Demand for VPNs went up by a staggering 17,000 percent on Sunday when the ban came into effect, Top10VPN.com said after tracking downloads by Sri Lankan users.

“There were 27,815 searches for VPN compared to a daily average of 321 over the previous 28 days,” Simon Migliano, the firm’s head of research, told AFP in an email.

“This is a huge increase in interest in what’s essentially a very niche tool for most people.”

Sunday’s ban blocked access to WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and a host of other popular platforms but it was lifted after 15 hours, following a ruling by the country’s Human Rights Council deeming the blackout illegal.

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The head of the country’s internet regulator resigned after the ban order went into effect and technology minister Namal Rajapaksa, the nephew of Sri Lanka’s president, also publicly criticised the policy.

“The availability of VPN, just like I’m using now, makes such bans completely useless,” Rajapaksa said on Twitter.

“I urge the authorities to think more progressively and reconsider this decision.”

He resigned that evening, along with all other ministers in Sri Lanka’s 28-member cabinet, excluding his uncle president and father, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka is in the grips of what the government concedes is the island nation’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

The anti-government hashtags “#GoHomeRajapaksas” and “#GotaGoHome” have been trending locally for days on social media after severe shortages of essentials, sharp price rises and crippling power cuts.

AFP

Sri Lanka Declares Emergency As Street Protests Spread Over Rising Prices

Protestors hold banners and placards during a demonstration against the surge in prices and shortage of fuel and other essential commodities in Colombo on April 1, 2022. Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP
Protestors hold banners and placards during a demonstration against the surge in prices and shortage of fuel and other essential commodities in Colombo on April 1, 2022.
Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

Sri Lanka’s president declared a state of emergency Friday giving sweeping powers to security forces a day after hundreds tried to storm his house in anger over an unprecedented economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa invoked the tough laws allowing the military to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without trial as demonstrations calling for his ouster spread across the South Asian nation.

The emergency was declared for “protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” he said in a proclamation.

The nation of 22 million is facing severe shortages of essentials, sharp price rises and crippling power cuts in its most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.

READ ALSO: 10-Hour Blackouts, Hospitals Stop Surgery As Sri Lanka Crisis Worsens

Police reimposed a nighttime curfew Friday in the Western Province, which includes the capital Colombo, expanding the no-go zone from the previous night.

Earlier in the evening, dozens of rights activists carried handwritten placards and oil lamps in the capital while demonstrating at a busy intersection.

“Time to quit Rajapaksas,” said one placard. “No more corruption, go home Gota,” said another — referring to the president.

In the highland town of Nuwara Eliya, activists blocked the opening of a flower exhibition by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wife, Shiranthi, police said.

The southern towns of Galle, Matara and Moratuwa also saw anti-government protests, and similar demonstrations were reported in the northern and central regions. All held up traffic on main roads.

‘Lunatic, go home’

Thursday night’s unrest outside the president’s private home saw hundreds of people demand he step down.

People chanted “lunatic, lunatic, go home”, before police fired tear gas and used water cannon.

The crowd turned violent, setting ablaze two military buses, a police jeep, two patrol motorcycles and a three-wheeler. They also threw bricks at officers.

At least two protesters were wounded. Police said 53 protesters were arrested, but local media organisations said five news photographers were also detained and tortured at a local police station, a charge the government said it will investigate.

The police and military presence was beefed up Friday.

‘Terrorists’

Two government ministers said a major intelligence failure had placed the lives of the president and his wife in danger on Thursday.

“Both the president and his wife were at their home when the protests were going on,” Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters in Colombo, discounting earlier claims that they were away at the time.

“We had information of a demonstration, but nothing suggesting that it could turn violent. This is a major intelligence failure.”

Transport Minister Dilum Amunugama said “terrorists” were behind the unrest.

Rajapaksa’s office said Friday that the protesters wanted to create an “Arab Spring” — a reference to anti-government protests in response to corruption and economic stagnation that gripped the Middle East more than a decade ago.

One of the president’s brothers, Mahinda, serves as prime minister while the youngest, Basil, is finance minister. His eldest brother and nephew also hold cabinet positions.

Sri Lanka’s predicament has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, which torpedoed tourism and remittances.

Many economists also say the crisis has been exacerbated by government mismanagement and years of accumulated borrowing.

Record inflation

The latest official data released Friday showed inflation in Colombo hit 18.7 percent in March, the sixth consecutive monthly record. Food prices soared a record 30.1 percent.

Colombo imposed a broad ban on imports in March 2020 in a bid to save foreign currency needed to repay nearly $7.0 billion this year to service its $51 billion debt.

Diesel shortages since Thursday have sparked outrage across Sri Lanka in recent days, causing protests at empty pumps.

The state electricity monopoly said it was enforcing a daily 13-hour power cut from Thursday — the longest ever — because it did not have diesel for generators.

Several state-run hospitals, facing shortages of life-saving medicines, have stopped routine surgeries.

The government has said it is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund while asking for more loans from India and China.

AFP

10-Hour Blackouts, Hospitals Stop Surgery As Sri Lanka Crisis Worsens

In this picture taken on March 25, 2022, people stand in a queue to buy kerosene for home use at a service station in Colombo.  (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) 

 

 

Sri Lanka on Wednesday began imposing record nationwide 10-hour daily power cuts as more hospitals announced the suspension of routine surgeries in response to severe shortages of fuel and life-saving medicines.

The South Asian nation of 22 million people is in its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, sparked by an acute lack of foreign currency to pay for imports.

The state electricity monopoly said it was imposing the 10-hour power cut, up from a seven-hour outage since the start of the month, because there was no oil to power thermal generators.

More than 40 percent of Sri Lanka’s electricity is generated from hydropower, but most of the reservoirs were running dangerously low because there had been no rains, officials said.

Most electricity production is from coal and oil. Both are imported but in short supply, as the country does not have enough foreign exchange to pay for supplies.

At least two more hospitals reported suspending routine surgeries because they were dangerously low on vital medical supplies, anaesthetics and chemicals to carry out diagnostic tests, and wanted to save them for emergency cases.

The country’s biggest medical facility, the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, said it had also stopped routine diagnostic tests.

An official added however that the facility continued to receive power supply from the national grid.

– No diesel for two days –
Sri Lanka’s main fuel retailer meanwhile said there would be no diesel, the fuel most commonly used for public transport, in the country for at least two days.

Officials from the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation told motorists waiting in long queues at petrol stations to leave and return only after imported diesel is unloaded and distributed. Many left their vehicles parked in line.

Fuel prices have also been repeatedly raised, with petrol costs nearly doubling and diesel up by 76 percent since the beginning of the year.

Colombo imposed a broad import ban in March 2020 to save foreign currency needed to service its $51 billion in foreign debt.

But this has led to widespread shortages of essential goods and sharp price rises.

The government has said it is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund while asking for more loans from India and China.

Sri Lanka’s current predicament was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which torpedoed tourism and remittances. Many economists also blame government mismanagement including tax cuts and years of budget deficits.

The country’s statistics office on Wednesday announced economic growth of 3.7 percent for the 2021 calendar year, before the crisis began to bite — up from a record contraction of 3.6 percent the previous year.

Sri Lanka Deploys Troops As Fuel Shortage Sparks Protests

Soldiers guard a fuel station in Colombo on March 22, 2022. Sri Lanka ordered troops to petrol stations on March 22 as sporadic protests erupted among the thousands of motorists queueing up daily for scarce fuel.
Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP

 

 

Sri Lanka ordered troops to petrol stations Tuesday as sporadic protests erupted among the thousands of motorists queueing up daily for scarce fuel.

The South Asian island nation is grappling with its worst economic meltdown since independence in 1948, with rolling electricity blackouts and essential goods such as food and cooking gas also in short supply.

Authorities said soldiers were deployed after angry crowds blocked a busy street in Colombo and held up traffic for hours because they were unable to buy kerosene oil on Monday.

“Tempers are getting frayed as queues get longer,” a top defence official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“A decision was made last night to call out soldiers to reinforce the police. This is to discourage any unrest.”

Footage of Monday’s incident shared on social media showed a group of angry women blockading a coach carrying tourists to protest shortages of kerosene needed for cooking stoves.

The troop call also follows the stabbing murder of a motorcyclist by another driver after a dispute over his place in a long queue for fuel outside the capital.

Three elderly people have dropped dead at fuel queues since Saturday, police said, adding that numerous petrol stations saw people camping overnight to wait for diesel and gasoline purchases.

Military officials said soldiers were deployed at pumping stations of the state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corp, which accounts for two-thirds of the fuel retail business in the nation of 22 million people.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office announced a summit of all political parties on Wednesday to discuss the economic crisis, but opposition groups said they planned to boycott the meeting.

Sri Lanka’s financial crisis stems from a critical shortfall of foreign currency, leaving traders unable to finance imports.

The Covid-19 pandemic throttled the island’s tourism sector — a key foreign exchange earner — and remittances from Sri Lankans working overseas have also declined sharply.

Rajapaksa announced last week that the country will seek an IMF bailout.

Shortages have wrought havoc on almost every aspect of daily life, with authorities last week postponing term tests for millions of students because of a lack of paper and ink.