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Sri Lankan ministers resign as protests erupt over economic crisis

The Justice Minister and the Minister for Youth and Sport, who is also the President’s nephew, have resigned or signaled their intention to do so, among others.

The moves follow weeks of turmoil, during which a foreign exchange crisis in the island nation has forced currency devaluation and pushed up the cost of basic commodities like food, medicine and fuel. Long queues in front of supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies have tried the patience of the population just as much as hour-long power outages.

Public anger boiled over violent Protests in Colombo last week saw demonstrators throwing bricks and setting fires in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s residence. In response, the government declared a state of emergency on Friday, imposed a curfew in parts of the city and blocked social media platforms nationwide.

Protests continued on Sunday despite the curfew and continued into Monday, with videos on social media showing crowds in the capital.

Sri Lanka is in an economic crisis. This is how it looks to the local people

On Monday, central bank governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal became the latest major figure to hand in his resignation, following a wave that began over the weekend.

Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa tweeted on Sunday evening that he had informed the Office of the President of his resignation “with immediate effect”.

He said he hopes this will help the government “establish stability” and that he remains “committed to my constituents, my party and the people of Hambantota” where he is a lawmaker.

He also criticized an apparent blackout on social media, saying he would “never condone” such a move and urged authorities to “reconsider”.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told local media late Sunday that he and other ministers had “handed our letters of resignation to the Prime Minister”.

“The President and Prime Minister will discuss and make relevant decisions,” he said, without clarifying how many ministers had offered their resignations.

The justice minister has also resigned, and several other cabinet ministers have signaled their intention to follow suit.

President answers

In a statement released by the President’s media team on Monday, President Rajapaksa did not address the resignations directly, only urging all parties “to work together in the interests of all citizens and future generations.”

“The current crisis is the result of multiple economic factors and global developments,” the statement said. “As one of the leading democratic countries in Asia, solutions should be found within a democratic framework.”

Foreign reserves have plummeted 70% to $2.31 billion over the past two years, Reuters reported. Sri Lanka has about $4 billion in debt to repay for the remainder of this year, including a $1 billion international government bond maturing in July.

Shops have been forced to close because they can’t run fridges, air conditioners or fans, and soldiers are stationed at gas stations to reassure customers who have queued for hours in the scorching heat to fill up their tanks. Some people have even died waiting.

Demonstrators had been protesting peacefully for weeks, some calling for the president’s resignation, before protests turned violent last Thursday in an escalation of the crisis.

And the recent resignations are not the only sign that worse could lie ahead for Sri Lanka. National consumer price inflation nearly tripled to 17.5% in February, from 6.2% in September, according to the country’s central bank.

Reuters contributed to the coverage.

https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/04/asia/sri-lanka-crisis-ministers-resign-intl-hnk/index.html Sri Lankan ministers resign as protests erupt over economic crisis

Charles Jones

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