Protests continue in Colombo as Sri Lanka nears IMF deal
Colombo, Mar 7 (EFE).- Protests continued on the streets of the Sri Lankan capital on Tuesday even as the country secured China’s support in a financial bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the island nation grappled with its worst ever economic crisis.
Sri Lanka sought IMF assistance in March last year as the country declared that it was struggling to pay its foreign debt, and was facing acute shortage of essential supplies for months, which caused a change in government due to public outrage.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced Tuesday before the parliament that the Exim Bank of China had agreed to support Sri Lanka’s bid to secure an IMF bailout in a letter of financial assurance sent overnight.
He added that he and Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe signed a letter of agreement and forwarded it to the IMF.
Sri Lanka was awaiting confirmation from China on its debt-restricting attempts to finalize a $2.9 billion loan from the international body.
“Now our duties are done. I hope that before the end of this month, by the fourth week, the IMF will do its duty. After that we get the first round of money from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank,” Wickremesinghe said.
Last year, the crisis spiraled into mass protests against the government, fuelled by the severe shortage of fuel, cooking gas, hours-long electricity cuts, and food and medicine shortages.
Meanwhile, Governor Weerasinghe said that Sri Lanka’s inflation continues to cool with headline inflation at 50.6 percent and food inflation at 54.4 percent, while the Sri Lankan rupee has gradually grown stronger.
However, the situation on the ground remains challenging for the people, who have continued to protest against the new government led by Wickremesinghe, put in charge by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa before fleeing the country.
Multiple reports have pointed out that malnutrition has been increasing, and a large percentage of the population have cut down on meal intake.
A recent report, by Save the Children, found that half of the families in Sri Lanka have been forced to reduce the amount of food they feed their children, with families headed by women being particularly affected.
Moreover, the government has been accused of cracking down on protesters as mass demonstrations continue in different parts of the country.
Thousands of protesters regrouped near Town Hall in Colombo on Tuesday, demanding a “system change” through fresh elections, after the police dismantled their demonstration at the Fort Railway Station citing a court order.
President Wickremesinghe, in his speech before the parliament, warned that if his government’s current program was “disrupted,” the country would be pushed back to its worst moments of the crisis.
“Holding meetings and holding protests is not a problem. But I would like to say that if this program is disrupted through this agitation, this government will act strongly on it,” he warned. EFE