Rage has boiled over in Sri Lanka. Reports have surfaced that protesters have burned down the homes of 38 politicians with at least another 75 being damaged. Meanwhile, according to CNN, the government has ordered its troops to “shoot on sight,” driving a spate of violence that has left hundreds dead.
The island nation, home to some 22 million people, has been grappling with its worst economic crisis since 1948 — when it gained independence from Britain — prompting thousands of anti-government protesters to take to the streets for months on end. Protests first erupted in the country in March of this year.
On May 10, Sri Lanka’s military was forced to rescue the country’s outgoing Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in an early morning operation just hours after his resignation.
A senior security source told CNN that protesters had tried twice to take the Prime Minister’s private residence the preceding night.
Rajapaksa has been replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed in an attempt to combat the chaos. It is the opposition MP’s sixth time serving as prime minister.
The new prime minister has appealed to the international community for financial help and told Sri Lankans, “there won’t be a hunger crisis, we will find food,” and asked for patience while promising he would ‘bring things back.”
Wickremesinghe was sworn in by embattled President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, locally known as Gota. However, his appointment has been met largely with dismay as many consider him too close to the Rajapaksa family, who protesters blame in large part for the current state of affairs.
In a recent interview, Wikremesinghe said he agreed with protesters who have been demanding that President Rajapaksa resign but also said that would not happen. “Blaming won’t lead to action, I’m here to see people nourished,” he said while promising that he was “going to change all the policies of the Rajapaksa government.”
“We need your assistance for a year, whatever we get from you we will repay. Help us to do it. We are the longest and oldest democracy in Asia,” he said, according to BBC News.
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Economy in free fall
Sri Lanka’s economy is staggering with food, medicine and fuel unavailable or unaffordable for many.
A 68-year-old woman from Sri Lanka’s capital of Columbo told AFP, “We don’t have kerosene, we don’t have cooking gas and we don’t even have access to wood-fired stoves. We are struggling everyday to feed our children. Food prices have tripled in the past few days. How are we supposed to manage?”
Sri Lanka is heavily dependent on imports. However, the country’s foreign currency reserves are all but depleted, leaving the country with few options to pay for them.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit one of the country’s primary industries, tourism, which followed the infamous anti-Christian terror bombings in spring 2019 that also impacted the country’s tourism business. However, economic mismanagement is believed to be the primary culprit for Sri Lanka’s economic woes.