Protests in Sri Lanka over economic crisis and police brutality

Despite earlier brutal crackdowns, protesters gathered in Colombo to express discontent at the dire economic situation.

Sri Lanka student protesters facing off against the police.
Members of Sri Lanka's Inter University Students' Federation protest outside a state-run university demanding the release of student union leaders who are in custody in Kelaniya on the outskirts of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on October 18, 2022 [File: AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena]

Thousands of Sri Lankans protested in the capital, Colombo, on Thursday with civil rights groups, trade unions and students expressing their discontent over the economic situation and the brutal suppression of previous demonstrations.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, pushing many into poverty. Annual food price inflation is at 85.8 percent, and prices of non-food items are at 62.8 percent. Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product (GDP) is forecast to contract by 8.7 percent.

Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez said the protesters are frustrated as there seems to be “no let-up” in the ongoing economic crisis. “The cost of living is soaring, food inflation is topping 90 percent, and people are really, really struggling,” she said.

The Trade Union Coordination Centre initiated the rally. The combined people’s movement brings together trade unions and prominent figures who led the earlier protests to remove former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

This year’s uprising against Rajapaksa began on March 31 and ended with the storming of his residence on July 9.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected president by a vote in Parliament on July 21.

Wickremesinghe immediately declared a state of emergency, which granted sweeping powers to the military and resulted in a series of crackdowns on protesters, with several protest leaders arrested.

After a brief wait-and-watch period following the crackdowns, “people are now coming out once again, and the reason for that is there seems to be no let-up,” said Fernandez. “A few months ago it was just beginning to make itself felt at the household table but now most households are really struggling.”

In August, the United Nations urged Wickremesinghe to end the crackdowns, describing them as a “misuse of emergency measures”.

However, with the cost of living rising and a series of tax increases set to be introduced, discontent in the island nation of 22 million people looks set to grow.

Sri Lanka is also suffering from a dollar shortage caused by economic mismanagement and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s tourism market. This has left the nation struggling to pay for essential imports, including food, fuel and medicine.

Sri Lanka is set to receive a bailout after reaching a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn. However, the deal is contingent on financial assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors, leaving it unclear when it will be issued.

Source: Al Jazeera