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Friday December 9th, 2022

Child or business? Sri Lanka flag vendor given choices by Rajapaksa backers before attack

ECONOMYNEXT – It was a hard choice to Shermila Mohamed, a national flag vendor at the protest site on May 09 near the presidential secretariat where hundreds of protesters had been demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government for one month.

A hoard of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters, hours before his resignation, stormed the Galle Face Green protest site where Shermila had been running a successful flag business selling national flags to protestors at the the Gota Go Gama, the makeshift “village” which the protests were centred around.

“They (Rajapaksa supporters) asked me what I value more, my child or my business,” Shermila told Economy Next on Tuesday (25) sharing her horrific experience on May 09 – which has since come to be known as Black Monday – when government supporters brutally attacked unarmed and peaceful protesters.

“I said my child and they said, ‘Then we will have to burn down your tent’.”

And burn it they did. Before setting the tent on fire, they trampled down Shermila’s flags, her bread and butter. Not one flag was spared.

Shermila holds a permit as a vendor at Galle Face. She left her job at a popular electronic store and days before the protests decided to start up a business selling flags with her brother and son. That ambition came to a halt on Black Monday.

“I had flags, needle and thread, wooden poles and masks – all worth 600,000 rupees, which I bought with a loan. How will I repay it with no sales?” she said.

The attacks, however, did not discourage her to leave the protest site.

Now she sells Buddhist flags which she had ordered after May 09 for the Vesak national Buddhist festival.

“The Buddhist flags I sell now are to remember the attack on May 09 by  government supporters who insist they follow Buddhism,” she said.

The attacks over protesters and people like Shermila later led to retaliatory mob violence across the country, with anti-government protestors attacking the then ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) supporters and torching the houses of SLPP legislators and local councilors. At least 10 people were killed and nearly 300 were injured in the clashes.

Despite the violence, people like Shermila cannot afford to close down her business because she may have to starve in what has become an unprecedented economic crisis.

The severity of the economic crisis has forced many to take to the streets demanding that the president and the government leave office. The protesters also want justice and are calling for the Rajapaksas to be held accountable for their actions on May 09.

The attack later forced Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign along with his cabinet of ministers, paving the way for a new government under prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The new prime minister has yet to address key economic issues, but many see another time bomb ticking to potentially massive public riots over food and medicine shortages in the next few months.

At Gota Go Gama, some vendors have now settled with different jobs, which partially explains Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, which was the root cause for the protest.

M K Lakshan from Kurunegela has resorted to selling masks, flags and protest accessories, after fuel price hikes took a toll on his main source of income of running a three-wheeler for hire.

Lakshan, a father of one, said he has been observing the protest and decided to do his bit as a citizen while also making a living.

Sri Lankan flag and mask vendors were seeing a boom in business at the protest site before Black Monday because there was high demand for those products at the protest site.

“Demand has also grown because protesting became an activity open to the public after the country was closed for more than two years,” said Danura Gunesekera, who sells mobile accessories and clothing.

He said the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions after two years helped bring strong support to the protest.

“People are more interested in coming forward for the country,” Gunesekera told EconomyNext.

Gunesekera said the cost of running at Galle Face is significantly lower as they are mobile sellers and don’t have a rent to pay considering the prime location they trade at.

“I used to make 30,000 a day from selling flags here. My only expense as of now is paying for my cart which is 200 rupees a day. Other than that I get food, water and other facilities all from here,” said S Subramaniam also known as Suda at Gota Go Gama.

Suda’s business was also disrupted after the May 09 mayhem.

He was a wagon toy seller that was prominently seen in the areas of Dehiwala and Colombo.

Subramaniam first visited the protest site in the first week of the protest. Seeing the determination and the commitment of the people helped spark the business idea, he said.

Shantha Kumara, a hand band and sticker vendor at Galle Face, started selling headbands and face stickers to protestors.

“I get the head band made from Kandy and I sold about 60 pieces on weekdays and during the weekends I sold about 100 pieces,” Kumara said adding that before the protest he would sell items in accordance with the season.

This season, before May 09 it happened to be face tattoos and head bands that say “Gota Go Home” that became one of the fastest selling items for Kumara who was there from day one. (Colombo/May3/2022)

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Sri Lanka bonds close up and while T-bills ease

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka bonds yields went up and the T-bills eased on active trade on Friday, dealers said.

“The bond rates went up, however more interest was seen in the short term bills by the investors” dealers said.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2024 closed at 31.90/32.20 percent on Friday, up from 31.25/70 percent at Thursday’s close.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2026 closed at 30.30/31.30 percent steady from 30.30/31.00 percent.

The three-month T-bills closed at 30.75/31.30 percent, down from 32.00/32.25 percent.

The Central Bank’s guidance peg for interbank transactions was at 363.18 rupees against the US dollar unchanged.

Commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers between 371.78 and 372.00 for small transactions, data showed.

Buying rates are between 361.78 – 362.00 rupees. (Colombo/Dec 09/2022)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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India smogs out Sri Lanka’s China tower observers


ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built Lotus Tower has halved visitors to its observation deck an official said as dirty air flowing from India triggered air quality warnings and schools in the capital closed.

“Masks are mandatory at the observation deck and roughly around 50 to 60 can go up to the observation deck at a time, time limits have not been altered and still persists at 20 minutes for observation,” the official told EconomyNext.

Prior to the smog, 120 observers were permitted at once to the deck.

However, even after limitations the Lotus Tower has continued to draw visitors, and revenues are coming in, the official said.

The tower built with a Chinese loan by the cash rich Telecom Regulatory Commission has been described by critics as a white elephant that eats the money earned from telecom operators mainly as spectrum fees.

Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said India air heavily polluted with particulate matter was flowing across the island into a depression in the South West Bengal Bay. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)



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