Sri Lankan ministers resign amid protests over economic crisis

The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Youth and Sports, who is also the president’s nephew, have either resigned or have announced their intention to step down.

The moves follow weeks of turmoil when a currency crisis in the island nation triggered a currency devaluation and pushed up the cost of basic commodities such as food, medicine and fuel. Long queues at supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies have become a test for the patience of the population, as well as many hours of power outages.

Public anger spilled over into violent protests in Colombo last week as demonstrators threw bricks and set fires outside the residence of President Gotabay Rajapaksa. In response, the government on Friday declared a state of emergency, imposing a curfew in parts of the city and blocking social media platforms across the country.

The protests continued on Sunday in defiance of the curfew and continued on Monday as videos surfaced on social media showing crowds in the capital.

On Monday, Central Bank Governor Ajit Niward Kabraal became the latest major figure to resign after a wave that started over the weekend.

On Sunday evening, Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa announced on Twitter that he had informed the presidential administration of his resignation “with immediate effect.”

He said he hoped it would help the administration “establish stability” and that he remained “committed to his constituents, my party and the people of Hambantota”, where he is a legislator.

He also criticized the apparent shutdown of social media, saying he would “never condone” such a move and calling on the authorities to “reconsider”.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told local media late Sunday that he and other ministers “handed our resignations to the prime minister.”

“The president and prime minister will discuss and make appropriate decisions,” he said, without specifying how many ministers were asked to leave.

The justice minister also resigned, and several other members of the cabinet announced their intention to follow suit.

The President answers

In a statement released by the presidential press office on Monday, President Rajapaksa did not explicitly speak of resignation, but only called on all parties to “work together for the benefit of all citizens and future generations.”

“The current crisis is the result of several economic factors and global events,” the statement said. “As one of the leading democracies in Asia, solutions must be found within the democratic framework.”

Foreign exchange reserves have fallen 70% over the past two years to $2.31 billion, Reuters reported. Sri Lanka is due to repay about $4 billion of debt over the remainder of this year, including $1 billion in international sovereign bonds maturing in July.

Stores are being forced to close because refrigerators, air conditioners or fans don’t work, and soldiers are on duty at gas stations to calm shoppers who queue for hours in the scorching heat to fill their tanks. Some people even died waiting.

Demonstrators protested peacefully for weeks, some calling for the president to resign, before the protests escalated into violence last Thursday, escalating the crisis.

And the latest resignations are not the only sign that Sri Lanka could be even worse off. The country’s consumer price inflation nearly tripled, from 6.2% in September to 17.5% in February, according to the country’s central bank.

This was reported by Reuters.

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