COLOMBO – Thousands of students from state universities marched in Sri Lanka’s capital on Monday to demand the president and prime minister resign over an economic crisis that has caused severe shortages of essential supplies and disrupted people's livelihoods and education.
The students say President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is responsible for the economic crisis, the worst since independence in 1948, and that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over the position a little more than a month ago promising to end shortages, has not delivered on his pledges.
Sri Lanka is nearly bankrupt and has suspended repayment of $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. It must also pay back more than $5 billion every year until 2026. Its foreign reserves are nearly gone and it is unable to import food, fuel, cooking gas and medicines. A lack of fuel to run power stations has resulted in long daily power cuts.
In recent months people have been forced to stand in long lines to buy fuel and gas, and the country has survived mostly on credit lines extended by neighboring India to buy fuel and other essentials.
With that credit also running out, authorities have shut schools and instructed teachers to teach online, and have asked non-essential government employees to work from home for one week to preserve limited stocks of fuel.
Officials from the International Monetary Fund are currently in Sri Lanka to discuss a bailout package.
Monthslong protests have nearly dismantled the Rajapaksa political dynasty that has ruled Sri Lanka for most of the past two decades.
One of Rajapaksa's brothers resigned as prime minister last month, and two other brothers and a nephew quit their Cabinet posts earlier.
President Rajapaksa has admitted he did not take steps to forestall the economic collapse early enough, but has refused to leave office. It is nearly impossible to oust a president under the constitution unless he resigns on his own accord.