Sri Lanka police tear gas protesters against president

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan police used tear gas and water cannon Saturday to disperse demonstrators who tried to approach the president’s office demanding his resignation amid the country’s ongoing economic crisis.

Demonstrators are rallying to mark the 50th day of protests they have camped outside the office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Police broke up the rally and briefly detained the three before releasing them.

Sri Lanka is nearly bankrupt, defaulting on its foreign loans and battling severe shortages of basic commodities such as cooking gas, fuel and medicines. People have been forced to wait in long queues for hours to buy goods, and many are still returning empty-handed.

The country’s foreign exchange reserves were also reduced to just enough to buy two weeks of imports.

Authorities announced last month that they would suspend repayments of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. Sri Lanka must repay $25 billion by 2026. The Indian Ocean island nation’s total foreign debt is $51 billion.

Protesters say the main responsibility for the economic crisis lies with Rajapaksa and his family, whom they accuse of corruption and mismanagement.

Violence erupted across the country on May 9 when supporters of Rajapaksa attacked peaceful protesters. Nine people, including ruling party MPs, were killed and the house of the current minister was torched. It all but destroyed the Rajapaksa dynasty after the president’s brother, then-Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned amid the violence.

Three of the president’s siblings and a nephew have resigned from the cabinet.

New Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he would have an economic reform plan ready within two weeks to seek approval for a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.

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