Sri Lankan President Will Not Resign Despite Growing Protests | Health & Fitness

By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s president will not resign and will instead confront the country’s political and economic crisis, a key government minister said Wednesday despite ongoing protests demanding his resignation.

Sri Lanka has endured months of shortages of fuel and other essentials, and protests over economic problems have spread across the country and expanded to criticism of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his powerful in-laws.

Rajapaksa has resisted calls for him to resign even after members of his own coalition did so this week, with ruling party lawmakers saying an interim government should replace theirs and that failing to do so would hold them responsible for the violence.

Rajapaksa “will not resign. We will face this. We have the strength to face this. We are not afraid,” Roads Minister Johnston Fernando told Parliament on Wednesday.

Hours earlier, Rajapaksa lifted a state of emergency he had declared last week after crowds of protesters rallied near his home in the capital Colombo. The widely criticized emergency declaration gave him broad authority to act to protect public safety, including suspending any laws, authorizing arrests and seizing assets.

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Television and social media footage on Monday showed protesters storming the offices and homes of ruling party lawmakers and vandalizing some facilities. The legislators urged the president of Parliament to guarantee their safety and Fernando said they were prepared.

“We are ready to face them if someone comes to attack us,” Fernando said in Parliament.

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Rajapaksa earlier proposed that a unity government be formed to handle the crisis, but was rejected by the main opposition party. His cabinet resigned on Sunday night, and on Tuesday, nearly 40 lawmakers from the ruling coalition said they would no longer vote according to coalition instructions, significantly weakening the government.

The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, remain in power, despite their politically powerful family being the focus of public anger. Five other members of the family are lawmakers, including Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, and a nephew, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.

The family’s immense political influence grew in part because Mahinda Rajapaksa was previously credited as president for ending Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war with the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.

It is now feared that the family’s control over key state functions has weakened independent institutions and left the government unable to address the crisis.

The government estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has cost the Sri Lankan economy $14 billion in the last two years. Protesters also allege fiscal mismanagement: Sri Lanka has a huge foreign debt after borrowing heavily for infrastructure and other projects that don’t make money. Its external debt payment obligations are around 7,000 million dollars this year alone.

Debts and declining foreign exchange reserves leave it unable to pay for imported goods.

For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, food and medicine, most of which comes from abroad and is paid for in hard currency. Fuel shortages, coupled with reduced hydroelectric capacity in dry weather, have led to ongoing power outages lasting hours each day.

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Rajapaksa said last month that his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and had turned to China and India for loans while asking people to limit fuel and electricity use.

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