For months, people in Sri Lanka have been taking to the streets because of the consequences of a severe economic crisis. Now the situation is escalating.
During protests against the serious economic crisis in Sri Lanka, demonstrators stormed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s official residence in the capital Colombo. The head of state of the South Asian country had previously been brought to safety, the president’s office said on Saturday. At least 50 people were injured, a hospital spokesman said.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in the city to demand the resignation of Rajapaksa and the government they blame for the crisis. Media estimated the number of demonstrators at around 100,000.
The police used tear gas and soldiers fired warning shots into the air, as was seen on television pictures. Nevertheless, numerous people managed to break through the barriers. About an hour after the presidential palace was stormed, demonstrators also entered the nearby presidential office, reports said.
Videos have meanwhile taken to social media from inside the palace, with cheering people swimming in the property’s pool. A small consolation.
Worst economic crisis in decades
The island state south of India with its approximately 22 million inhabitants is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades. One reason for this is that tourism, which is important for Sri Lanka, collapsed in the wake of the corona pandemic. The heavily indebted country lacks the money to import important goods such as fuel or medicines. There are regularly long queues in front of gas stations.
The government has asked the International Monetary Fund and several countries, such as India, China and Russia, for help. The UN Emergency Relief Office (OCHA) warned in June that the severe economic crisis could exacerbate a looming hunger crisis in Sri Lanka. The country had previously been on a good development path for ten years and did not need UN humanitarian aid.
Government promised improvements – and imposed curfews
On Friday, the government promised to improve fuel supplies. She also imposed an indefinite curfew. However, under pressure from civil rights groups, lawyers and Buddhist monks who support the demonstrations, she withdrew the measure. Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena called a meeting with party leaders to discuss the situation.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, resigned in May amid months of unrest. Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as his successor. At that time, according to the police, at least nine people were killed and more than 250 injured in protests. In June, Basil Rajapaksa, another of the president’s brothers, resigned as finance minister.