Anti-government protests have roiled Sri Lanka’s capital amid demands that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign, as the country suffers its worst economic crisis in decades.
Tens of thousands of people gathered outside the president’s office in Colombo on Tuesday, led by supporters of the opposition party, the United People’s Force.
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Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa addressed the demonstration, declaring it marked the beginning of a campaign to remove the government.
“You have been suffering now for two years. Can you suffer further?” he told the large crowd carrying signs and anti-government banners.
Premadasa described the sitting government as “evil” and blamed it for many of the country’s economic woes.
Demonstrators accused the government of mismanaging the economy and creating a foreign exchange crisis that has led to shortages of essentials like fuel, cooking gas, milk powder and medicine.
Sri Lanka is struggling to pay for imports as its foreign reserves are at an all-time low.
Fuel shortages have curbed transportation within the country, including of essential supplies, and have led to hours-long daily power cuts.
In the face of the fiscal crisis, Sri Lanka’s central bank floated the national currency last week, resulting in its devaluation by 36 percent and a further sharp rise in prices.
Authorities have expanded banned imports to include some fruits and milk products, alongside the existing ban on imports of cars, floor tiles and other products, to staunch the outflow of foreign currency.
Sri Lanka’s fiscal crisis is partly driven by outstanding foreign debts of some $7bn.