Monday, 13 May, 2024

Pro-government supporters attack protesters in Sri Lanka

Violence erupts among protesters and trade unions call for protests throughout this week over the worst economic crisis in the country’s history.

An activist stages a mock ritual to exorcise demons outside the official residence of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
An activist stages a mock ritual to exorcise demons outside the official residence of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. (AFP)

Government supporters have attacked protesters who have been camped outside the office of Sri Lanka's prime minster, as trade unions began a “Week of Protests” demanding the government change and its president to step down over the country’s worst economic crisis in memory.

The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy and has suspended payments on its foreign loans. Its economic woes have brought on a political crisis, with the government facing widespread protests and a no-confidence motion in Parliament.

Supporters of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa rallied inside his office earlier Monday, urging him to ignore the protesters' demand to step down and requesting he remain in office.

After the meeting, they went to the front of the office where protesters have been demonstrating for several days. Local television channel Sirasa showed pro-government supporters attacking protesters with clubs, demolishing and later burning down their tents.

READ MORE: 'Herculean task': Sri Lanka seeking $3B to stave off economic crisis

Week of protests

Meanwhile, trade unions on Monday called for protests throughout this week, trade union activist Saman Rathnapriya said, and more than 1,000 unions representing health, port, education, and other key service sectors have joined the “Week of Protests" movement.

He said during the week, the workers will stage demonstrations at their workplaces across the country. At the end of the week, they will launch a huge march up to Parliament, demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's removal and a new government.

Worst economic crisis

For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad. Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which surged to 18.7 percent in March.

People blocked main roads to demand gas and fuel. On Sunday, local television channel Hiru showed people in some areas fighting over fuel.

Sri Lanka was due to pay $7 billion of its foreign debt this year out of nearly $25 billion it must pay by 2026. Its total foreign debt is $51 billion.

Sri Lanka’s finance minister announced earlier this week that the country’s usable foreign reserves have plummeted below $50 million.

As oil prices soar during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Sri Lanka’s fuel stocks are running out. Authorities have announced countrywide power cuts will increase to about four a day because they can’t supply enough fuel to power generating stations.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka defaults on entire external debt amid economic crisis

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