Rajapaksa calls for national unity government, but crowds demand his resignation
Despite a curfew, protests against the economic crisis continued during the weekend. Over 600 people have been arrested. The Christian Solidarity Movement wants more than ousting current leaders. “We must act to change this system” that has impoverished the country.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has called on the opposition to join a government of national unity; his aim is to stop protests that have been sweeping the country for days due to its serious economic crisis.
The president’s appeal follows the resignation last night of all 26 ministers from the cabinet headed by the president’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa. The governor of the central bank, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, also quit. However, both the president and his brother prime minister remain in office at present.
The “time has come to work together for the sake of all the citizens and future generations,” Rajapaksa’s office said in a statement
Despite a 36-hour curfew imposed across the island at 6 pm on April 2, thousands of people – mostly university students – continued their protest. Attempts to muzzle social media was thwarted by people using VPN.
What all those involved in protest want is for President Rajapaksa to resign in a country where essential goods such as petrol, gas and milk are now in short supply and blackouts can last up to 13 hours. At least, 600 people were taken into custody over the weekend.
The Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM) also held a rally on Saturday in Negombo.
Fathima Cader, a rights activist who attended the rally, told AsiaNews that “at home we suffer from food shortages. I came to do my duty for the people because of the anger and pain felt by my family.”
“We did not come to oust the existing leaders and appoint new ones,” said lawyer and Holy Family Sister Ramani Fernando.
“The leaders who have ruled this country since independence should all be held responsible for today’s suffering, pain and crisis,” she explained. Those who suffer “cannot be allowed to die. We must act to change this system.”
Ajith Hadley, a school teacher, human rights defender and a member of the Negombo Citizen's group, told AsiaNews: “We ask the government: Why was this very religious island turned into a debtor nation and the country was emptied of its assets? What have people done wrong to be punished like this?”
“A government that cannot provide the food, fuel, gas and electricity that people need should not be in power,” said Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, rights advocate and member of the CSM, in his address to the protesters.
“If the country's land and forests cannot be protected, this government has not moral right to remain in power,” he explained. “Therefore, we publicly ask the president to resign.”