Thousands of students from state universities have marched in Sri Lanka’s main city of Colombo to demand the resignation of the president and prime minister as the economic crisis has left a severe shortage of essential goods and disrupted livelihoods and education.
Students say President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is responsible for the economic crisis, the worst since independence in 1948, while Ranil Wick, who took over the post more than a month ago and pledged to end the shortage Prime Minister Lemasinghe did not deliver on his promises.
Sri Lanka, on the brink of bankruptcy, has suspended repayments of $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. It also has to pay back more than $5 billion annually until 2026. Its foreign exchange reserves are almost depleted, and it cannot import food, fuel, gas and medicines. The lack of fuel to run the power station results in prolonged daily power outages.
In recent months, people have been forced to wait in long queues to buy fuel and natural gas, and the country has largely relied on a line of credit from neighboring India for fuel and other necessities.
With credit lines also running out, authorities closed schools and directed teachers to teach online and asked non-essential government employees to work from home for a week to preserve limited fuel stocks.
IMF officials are currently discussing a rescue package in Sri Lanka.
The months-long protests have all but destroyed the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
One of Rajapaksa’s brothers resigned as prime minister last month, while two other brothers and a nephew resigned from the cabinet earlier.
President Rajapaksa admitted he did not take early steps to stop the economy from collapsing, but refused to leave office. Under the country’s constitution, it is nearly impossible to remove a president unless he resigns voluntarily.