Sunday, 3 April 2022

The Protest at President Rajapaksa's Home (31 March 2022)

President Rajapaksa's Home Protest
A crowd of hundreds of people who were protesting against the government’s handling of the nation’s deepening economic crisis stormed the area vicinity of the home of Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the evening of 31 March 2022. The people demanded for Rajapaksa and the entire cabinet to resign over their unsuccessful handling of the crisis. This was the first major public gathering against the rule of the Rajapaksa government without the direct involvement of any political party.

Sri Lanka economic crisis
The economy of Sri Lanka deteriorated gradually since the Rajapaksa family got power over the island in 2019. The 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attack on several hotels (Shangri-La Hotel, The Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand) and churches (St. Anthony's Church, St. Sebastian's Church, Batticaloa Zion Church), and the Covid-19 pandemic in the next years badly affected the economy of the country. This was further fueled by the foreign debt borrowed heavily on projects that don’t earn money, corrupted family rule and the number of wrong decisions taken out by the Rajapaksa regime as well as by previous governments.

According to the view of some independent politicians and protesters, President Gatabaya’s nepotism was one of the main causes of the country's worst economic situation. He had been widely criticized for appointing his brothers as ministers and giving other key positions to relatives. At the time of the economic crisis, the government's finance minister (Basil Rajapaksa), prime minister (Mahinda Rajapaksa) and agriculture minister (Chamal Rajapaksa) were the president’s brothers while his nephew (Namal Rajapaksa) was the sports minister.

During the first two and half years of the tenure of Gotabaya, the country's foreign exchange reserves fell by more than 70%. The shortage of dollars restricted the buying of essential items like food, medicine, paper and fuel and it also led to a sharp spike in their prices. The run out of foreign currency to pay for fuel to power vehicles and generate power disrupted many businesses, education and day to day life for millions. Long lines occurred outside fuel and gas stations, while people had to queue up for hours in the heat. Five elderly people died after collapsing in queues. Also, electricity lines across the country were switched off for more than 12 hours, forcing the hospitals to halt routine surgeries.

The protest
President Rajapaksa's Home Protest
The protest at Mirihana Pengiriwatta junction near the President's house began peacefully on the evening of 31 March 2022 but it turned violent after security forces fired teargas and water cannon to disperse the crowd. Protesters retaliated against the police by pelting them with stones. Several government vehicles were burnt down by unidentified vandals during the protest.

The violence prompted an overnight curfew and the arrests of several people. Nearly 50 people, including some journalists, were injured and taken to hospital.

President Rajapaksa's Home Protest President Rajapaksa's Home Protest
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6) Pollard, R. How Four Powerful Brothers Broke an Island Nation. Bloomberg. 18 March 2022.

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