Colombo, Nov 2 (EFE).- The persistent economic crisis in Sri Lanka on Wednesday led to mass protests in Colombo, with a demonstration by students, political parties and civil organizations, reviving the scenes that led the country to a civil uprising a few months ago.
The demonstration was called by several unions, student movements and political parties, including the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) party, and brought together thousands of people on the streets of the Sri Lankan capital.
Most of the participants in the protest were young people, some of them prepared with gas masks, water bottles, and handkerchiefs, to protect themselves in case of repressive action by the security forces.
Others arrived without protection but claimed to be prepared to face water cannons and tear gas from the security forces, while shouting the slogan “Api baya na” (we are not scared), in front of a strong police deployment.
“What we are asking for now is what we were asking for earlier this year – we need change,” Joseph Stalin, one of the organizers of the protest and general secretary of the Teachers’ Union, told EFE, referring to the wave of protests across the country earlier this year, which forced the then-president to resign.
Stalin, who was also one of the main leaders of those demonstrations and even faced arrest, said their demands included ending repression of popular protest, and repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), used to arrest many protesters.
“If the government does not stop repression, then it will have to prepare for a new wave of protests,” he warned.
Sri Lanka’s central bank data suggests that inflation has begun to decline gradually for the first time since the economic crisis partially paralyzed the country a few months ago.
However, the high cost of living has continued to plague citizens, leading them to turn out to express their discontent.
“We can’t go on living like this. Everything is expensive,” Rashmini Vuhanga, 22, who joined the march with her husband and her baby, told EFE.
Overall year-on-year inflation fell to 66 percent last month, from 69.8 percent in September, and the cost of the food basket fell to 85.6 percent in October from 94.9 percent in September, which however is still unsustainable for families.
Over the last one year, the island nation has been going through its the worst economic crisis since independence from the British Empire in 1948.
Sky-rocketing inflation, clubbed with a fall in foreign exchange reserves, caused the government to default on loan payments, and start negotiating with the IMF for a bailout plan, which is yet to materialize.
This situation led to protests across the island since the end of March, when thousands of people began taking to the streets calling for the resignation of then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
On July 9, the discontent culminated in an attack on Rajapaksa’s official residence and the private residence of then-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, forcing the president to step down and flee the country.
Wickremesinghe, now the country’s president, said earlier this week that the government aims to reach an agreement with the IMF by January next year.
Ruling party lawmaker Premmnath C. Dolawatte called the demonstrators “economic terrorists,” for provoking instability in the nation at a time when the government is trying to get the country afloat and regain the confidence of creditors and investors.
“This protest, at this time, is unnecessary. What are they asking for? This protest is politically motivated,” he told EFE.
Several members of The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, in a joint statement, expressed concerns about the protests “that could undermine the efforts being taken to resolve the current economic crisis with the support of the international community.” EFE