Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not resign, a minister has said, despite protests against his handling of the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
Rajapaksa, governing the country since 2019 with other family members in top positions, revoked a state of emergency late on Tuesday after five days as dozens of politicians walked out of the ruling coalition, leaving his government in a minority.
Sri Lankans have been suffering from shortages of fuel, power, food, drugs and other items for weeks, and doctors say the entire health system could collapse in weeks.
Street protests began a month ago and have intensified in recent days, with people openly defying the emergency and a weekend curfew to demand the overthrow of Rajapaksa.
“May I remind you that 6.9 million people voted for the president,” highways minister Johnston Fernando said in parliament on Wednesday in response to criticism from the opposition and cries of “Go home Gota”.
“As a government, we are clearly saying the president will not resign under any circumstances. We will face this.”
After Fernando’s speech, nearly 200 doctors, some in their blue scrubs, marched down a road by a national hospital in commercial capital Colombo, chanting slogans against the government.
Some held a banner saying, “Strengthen people’s right to live. Declare a health emergency.”
Malaka Samararathna, who works at the state-run Apeksha Hospital for cancer patients, said not only drugs but even chemicals used in testing are running short.
“The patients who are on chemotherapy, we have to monitor them carefully daily,” Samararathna said.
“If we can’t do it, we can’t decide the way forward. We can’t decide on the proper management. Sometimes our chemotherapy drugs are causing severe side effects, so the only way we have to find it is by doing these investigations.”
Vasan Ratnasingam, a spokesperson for the Government Medical Officers’ Association that represents more than 16,000 doctors nationwide, said at least one vital drug was not available at all in his Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children.
“Other than that, 102 essential drugs are in short supply. Some of those drugs are frequently used, such as for respiratory tract infections and for urinary tract infections,” he said, warning doctors would have to stop routine treatments and surgeries if immediate action was not taken.
Also on Wednesday, the speaker of parliament warned that the crippling economic crisis risks causing starvation across the island nation of 22 million.
Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana told legislators that more hardships were to come.
“We are told this is the worst crisis, but I think this is just the beginning,” Abeywardana said at the start of a two-day debate on the worsening economic woes.
“The food, gas and electricity shortages will get worse. There will be very acute food shortages and starvation.”