04/19/2022, 17.34
SRI LANKA
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As protests against the high cost of living continue, Rajapaksa appoints a new cabinet

by Melani Manel Perera

The president has named a new 17-member cabinet in an attempt to calm the unrest. Yesterday, Sri Lanka and the International Monetary Fund began talks to ease the country’s financial crisis. Cardinal Ranjith calls on the current leadership to resign.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed 17 new ministers in an attempt to appease growing unrest against the high cost of living.

Opposition parties and protesters have been calling for his resignation for weeks, while negotiations just kicked off with the International Monetary Fund to deal with the country’s economic crisis, the worst in its history.

Speaking about the issue, Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo said, “It is the responsibility of rulers to listen to the voice of the people. They are not the owners of the country but only temporary custodians.”

Since early April, protesters have been calling on the government and the president to resign, chanting “Gota go home”. Although the cabinet did quit, Rajapaksa refused to resign as did his brother, Mahinda, who remains the current prime minister.

The opposition, which rejected the president’s request to join a unity government, backs the protesters, saying that Gotabaya Rajapaksa must leave because he has lost popular support.

In an effort to stem calls for his resignation, the president and his brother, a former president, have offered to amend the constitution to curtail presidential powers.

In the capital Colombo, thousands of people have joined the peaceful protests, which pro-government media have dubbed “beach parties” while claiming that they were funded by terrorist organisations.

“Changing the cabinet is like changing a pillow for a headache.” Instead, “the disease must be treated,” Card Ranjith said at a press conference. “If the current leadership continues, we urge them to step down,” he added. “This is the voice of the common people in this country.”

For the prelate, the protests are “a just struggle;” for this reason, “we pay our respects to the youth who have come forward and made various sacrifices for it.”

“If the government or those in power try to suppress or sabotage this protest movement in any way, we shall see it as an attack on the citizens of the whole country,” he warned.

The use of force and armed repression is undemocratic and immoral. "All that needs to be done is to listen to the voice of the people and to ensure that the law prevails over political authority.”

Meanwhile, talks began yesterday in Washington with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which will consider Sri Lanka’s request for quick financial assistance, Finance Minister Ali Sabry said.

The IMF has ben reluctant to grant a loan, but said that it would evaluate guarantees provided by the Indian government.

Colombo needs at least US$ 3 billion, which it is trying to get from the IMF, the World Bank and other countries like India and China.

Sri Lanka has submitted to the IMF a request for a loan under the rapid financial instrument (RFI) policy, usually granted to countries with “urgent” needs due to sharp increases in the prices of raw materials, natural disasters or conflicts.

Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves have been seriously depleted, preventing it from buying fuel, medicines and other basic necessities.

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