Sri Lanka: Protesters storm the presidential palace, forcing the president and prime minister to resign
Amid fuel shortages, rising inflation, militarization of cities and proposals for new austerity measures to secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), fresh protests erupted across the city on Saturday. Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.
Tens of thousands of protesters stormed the office and residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Protesters broke through the security perimeter surrounding Rajapaksa’s official residence while police used tear gas to prevent entry. Rajapaksa is said to have left earlier on a navy ship.
In response to this escalation, Rajapaksa tendered his resignation, as did Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The growing protests in the country are taking place against the backdrop of one of the worst economic crises in Sri Lanka since its independence in 1948, resulting from the depletion of foreign currency in international reserves and heavy debt. An import-dependent country that relies heavily on tourism for its economy, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves are now depleted and the country has declared bankruptcy, leaving it unable to buy essential goods on the world market. Since the beginning of this year, the country has severely restricted imports of what it considers “non-essential”, including dairy products such as butter, cheese, yogurt, fish and fruit. Meanwhile, the country also has a huge foreign debt to repay.
Tension and discontent grew on the island in late March when authorities imposed power cuts lasting more than 1 p.m. in the face of a fuel crisis, leading people to take to the streets to demand the resignation of the Sri Lankan executive.
Since then, hundreds of demonstrators have settled near the presidential secretariat in Colombo. Protests around the island nation have become commonplace and increasingly suppressed, as police and state forces have tried to impose a crippling curfew with all their might.
Meanwhile, the government tried to reach a bailout deal with the IMF behind the backs of the working class. This agreement would include drastic and far-reaching structural reforms, such as austerity in state spending, the elimination of duopoly in the energy sector, the end of import restrictions, the increase in taxes indirect effects and the privatization or sale of state enterprises. In anticipation of the bailout, the Rajapaksa government further devalued the currency, causing inflation to rise.
The protests are part of a deepening social and economic crisis across the world. Supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine have increased inflation and food shortages, which in turn have sparked strikes in Europe and the United States, as well as rebellions in countries like Ecuador and Iran. Ukraine and Russia are important geopolitical allies for Sri Lanka, especially for tea exports and fuel imports.
Amid the crisis, Sri Lanka’s opposition parties have joined calls and led the charge for the current government to step down. In reality, they present no real solution for the country’s workers. The debate within the political caste on the issue of foreign debt is limited to whether to refinance or completely restructure the entire debt. Both of these solutions only mean more misery for Sri Lankans, especially because they both mean more austerity measures that will further squeeze the working class.
It is increasingly important that Sri Lanka’s external debt – and the debt of all countries affected by the IMF’s imperialist exploitation and extortion – be cancelled. To find a real solution to this crisis, it is urgent to break the agreement between the imperialist and national bourgeoisies. The working class should not pay a single penny for this crisis.
Luigi is a freelance photographer, socialist journalist and videographer. He is an immigrant rights activist.
Sou Mi is a New York-based activist.