Sri Lankan protesters reject PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s offer for talks


COLOMBO: Sri Lankans who protested outside the president’s office in Colombo on Wednesday rejected Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapksa’s offer of talks and demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and all members of his family from the government.

Social media posts by participants said they were unwilling to have talks unless the Rajapaksas resign from all government positions.

“We did not come here to talk. We are here to demand that you and the government resign,” said a young activist at the protest site, now known as GotGoGama, as quoted by News 1st channel.

The protests entered their fifth day on Wednesday and since they began on Saturday they have been carried out 24 hours a day by young people who demand a total transformation of the “corrupt political culture”, which they say has prevailed in the island nation since it gained independence from Great Britain. in 1948.

Various celebrities, musicians, artists and writers joined the protests on Wednesday. Among them was Roshan Mahanama, the celebrated cricketer who was a member of the 1996 World Cup-winning team.

“People are suffering without essentials and without electricity. No solutions have come from politicians, that is why this action is being carried out,” said Mahanama.

Earlier, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said it was willing to hold talks with youth protesting and camping on the Galle Face esplanade, located near President Gotabaya’s secretariat.

The prime minister has said that if the protesters are ready for talks, he will extend an invitation for their representatives to meet to discuss, he noted.

Prime Minister Mahinda is the older brother of President Gotabaya.

Basil, the youngest, held the finance portfolio until the president fired him earlier this month amid the economic crisis.

The older brother Chamal controls the ministry of agriculture and the nephew Namal is the minister of sports. The protest campaign has been running on social media, urging young people to gather at Galle Face.

Additionally, there have been ongoing protests across the island, blaming the government for its mismanagement of the currency crisis that led to severe shortages of essential items.

As the protests unfolded across most of the island, large queues for fuel and cooking gas were witnessed. The people vent their anger against the government for its mismanagement of the economic crisis, the worst in the country’s history.

Public anger was heightened because they were made to wait in queues, hampering their plans to celebrate the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year which falls on Thursday.

The government on Tuesday announced the default on the island’s international debt payments, the first time in the history of independent Sri Lanka.

President Gotabaya, who managed to get his ministers to resign in response to public dissatisfaction, failed to win support for his call for opposition parties to join a unity cabinet. He runs the country with only four ministers.

Meanwhile, the main opposition announced that their leader Sajith Premadasa has signed three motions that will soon be tabled in Parliament: a motion of no confidence, a motion to impeach President Gotabaya, and a motion to repeal 20 amendments that had given him power. absolute. as president in 2020.

Maithripala Sirisena, the former president and member of the governing partner Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), told reporters on Tuesday night that he would no longer attend political talks with the government. They had proposed an 11-point plan, including the formation of an interim all-party government, to break the current political impasse.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence from the UK in 1948. People have been protesting for weeks over prolonged power cuts and shortages of fuel, food and other essentials for daily life.

President Gotabaya has defended his government’s actions, saying the currency crisis was not his doing and the economic downturn was largely a pandemic driven by the island nation’s declining tourism revenue and incoming remittances.

Burdened by a massive currency crisis, Sri Lanka on Tuesday suspended servicing its foreign public debt pending the completion of its talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the preparation of a comprehensive debt restructuring program covering the obligations.

The policy will be in place for all international bonds, all bilateral loans excluding swaps between the central bank and a foreign central bank, all loans with commercial banks and institutional lenders, the finance ministry said.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Prime Minister Mahinda, who is under mounting pressure to resign, said he understands people’s suffering.

“We have to strengthen the economy. We will take responsibility for solving the economic problem in the same way we ended the 30-year war,” he had said, referring to his military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). in 2009.

The LTTE, which led a separatist war for a separate Tamil homeland, was crushed by the Lankan army in 2009 with the death of its paramount Velupillai Prabhakaran. Mahinda had said that the government is working day and night to overcome the economic crisis. He called on protesters to end their anti-government agitation, saying that every minute they spend on the streets deprives the country of dollars coming in.

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