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Monday December 5th, 2022

Sri Lanka protestors determined to see back of president despite surprise curfew

GotaGoGama, the makeshift agitation site, was attacked by government supporters by May 09, leading to retaliatory mob violence

ECONOMYNEXT – Thousands of Sri Lankans plan to march into Colombo on Saturday July 09 demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government, and despite police throwing a spanner in the works by imposing a surprise curfew Friday evening, organisers are determined to go ahead.

Protestors had planned to congregate in the heart of the capital and occupy the Colombo Fort area adjacent to the President’s House, forcing him to finally step down after nearly four months of vociferous, nationwide demands for his departure.

Sri Lanka’s youth-led anti-government protests, launched in late March, have been largely leaderless, but several organisations and groups have come to represent the movement over the past few months, though not without allegations of indirect opposition party involvement.

One of the organisers of Saturday’s planned events, Nipun Tharaka, said the curfew will not stop them.

“This is Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s handbook. We came to the streets last time. He can expect the same tomorrow. We’re not afraid of their guns, tear gas or their water canons. Hit us or kill us, we’re ready,” he said.

“We joined the protest prepared to sacrifice ourselves, and that has not changed. We are ready,” he repeated.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has come out strongly against the curfew order, noting that it is illegal and that the police have no authority to impose such a curfew.

Chaminda Dias, another protestor, said soon after the news broke about the curfew: “We will go ahead. I’m seething right now. What a spineless coward.”

The curfew, imposed in seven police divisions across Colombo, has been imposed “until further notice”, and police said anyone living within those boundaries must stay indoors. Violating the curfew, police said, will be considered disturbance of the peace.

Udara Prasad, 27, from the central district of Kandy, left his three sisters and mother for the protests, mainly to “fight for his sister’s future.”

“We are seasoned protestors now, used to tear gas and water canons. So shoot us, disperse us; we will come back stronger. Last time, it was the same story, as it will be this time. Now that we have experience on the battlefield, we are coming back stronger,” said Prasad.

If the protest proceeds as planned, both the youth participants and some opposition parties will engage in separate protests demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the rest of the government.

Sri Lanka is in the throes of the worst economic crisis in its 74-year post-Independence history, with unprecedented forex shortages leading to crippling shortages of essentials including fuel. The ongoing protests, referred to as the Aragalaya (or struggle), which began in late March culminated in an Occupy Wall Street-style permanent agitation site named GotaGoGama (Gota Go Village) right outside the presidential secretariat near Galle Face, Colombo.

The protests had remained peaceful until things took a turn when supporters of former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa launched an unprovoked attack on peaceful protestors at GotaGoGama (GGG) and its sister site MynaGoGama (aimed at the then PM) on May 09, which triggered a storm of retaliatory mob violence against government ministers, MPs and their backers. One ruling party MP was killed.

The Galle Face protests subsequently reduced in intensity and crowd strength, particularly following incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickermesinghe’s replacement of Mahinda Rajapaksa, but skyrocketing commodity prices and a worsening fuel situation that’s resulted in miles-long queues for petrol have seen a quiet resurgence of public anger against the government.

Organisers expect Saturday’s protest to revitalise the Argalaya.

Sarika Siriwardhane, founder of Yellow for Democracy, said trains will be coming from Kandy with protestors, but it is unclear at present how the curfew will affect these plans.

“Some protestors started walking from Kurunegela to Colombo on Thursday. This is also seen as the End Game, having one final push to remove President Rajapaksa. The date was chosen as it marks two  months since the May 09 incident,” she said, Friday morning.

Sri Lankans abroad will also be joining the protest from their cities in support of the movement, particularly in countries like Canada, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland.

One protestor, who is a celebrity actor and a known affiliate of the opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National Peolpe’s Power (NPP), Jagath Manuwarana, told EconomyNext on Friday that the organisers have reached outto all political parties who he said have expressed their support in urging the president to step down.

“Mutual agreements have been made with these parties. Upon sending Rajapaksa home, they can resume their own political agendas,” he said.

Government members have accused the leftist JVP and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) of being behind some of the retaliatory violence on May 09, an allegation both partie have flatly denied. Some other protestors have also complained of the Aragalaya being “hijacked” by parties with vested interests, pointing in particular to the Inter University Student Federaton (IUSF) widely seen as being affiliated with the FSP.

The IUSF organised a protest march to Colombo on the eve of the July 09 mass agitation, as a curtain raiser for Saturday’s event. The march came under heavy police teargas fire Friday afternoon as the protest intensified.

The authorities, meanwhile, continue to warn against possible outbreaks of violence on Saturday, but the organisers say they’re determined to keep the proceedings free of incident.

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung asked both sides to act peacefully. Violence is not the answer, she tweeted Friday afternoon.

Resident Coordinator for UN Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy echoed similar sentiments.

Fr Jeewantha, a Catholic priest who has become a face of the GotaGoGama agitation site, said: “People assume there will be violence because of the numbers turning out and news about the protest has circulated on social media. We have always been protesting peacefully and will continue to do so.”

Organisers expect a crowd of 60,000 protestors that will occupy Fort and sine 40,000 rolling in protestors that will come and go from the site.

Nuzly Hameem, civil activist and active protestor at GotaGoGama said: “The people are angry, overall people are angry and frustrated over the turn of events with the government.”

W P Harin, 26, said the fight isn’t over yet.

“This country is ours, ours to live in, ours to fight for. Just because some goon imposed curfew doesn’t mean the fight stops. It means the battle begins,” he said. (Colombo/Jul08/2022)

Comments (2)

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  1. Bandu says:

    I would prefer to say, said Rajapakse regime actually exacerbated and helped daylight the downfall of the economy and governance, which has been happening for the past 30 to 40 years since JRJ’s ‘almost can make a man a woman’s constitution. Ills were hidden for seasonal and periodical reasons but were existing to a greater or lesser extent.
    No excuses. Every politician since getting rid of the British Rule must bear the responsibility to a greater or lesser extent. True, during the past 10 years, the downfall was accelerated, became obvious and created the current pitiful situation.
    Why didn’t they see they needed to pay off the part of the foreign debts in 2021 and thereafter have a honeymoon period prior to and save for that? Curtail borrowing? Corruption? Lack of common sense? This has only highlighted the ineptness of the self-centred, selfish, corrupt, ignorant lot of politicians and their administrative and civil acolytes. Their sins created the current suffering of ordinary citizens, while they enjoyed the pleasures of power and money they have acquired and accumulated through legal and illegal means. That’s where the root was and is.
    Time to destroy this system and start the painful process of rebuilding. Most people would be ready to bear the pain happily, knowing it is for the sake of future generations.

  2. bandu says:

    It is disappointing to hear only 100,000 people would take part in the July ’09 protest (in Colombo) to represent 22 million citizens. I’d expect at least a million people, countrywide should protest, not only to warn the current regime and its stooges but the international community, including the US, who overtly and covertly support and supported the corrupt regimes globally through and throughout history.
    This behavior of most Lankans who wait on the sidelines at home safe and sound for the others to suffer for them is pathetic.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Bandu says:

    I would prefer to say, said Rajapakse regime actually exacerbated and helped daylight the downfall of the economy and governance, which has been happening for the past 30 to 40 years since JRJ’s ‘almost can make a man a woman’s constitution. Ills were hidden for seasonal and periodical reasons but were existing to a greater or lesser extent.
    No excuses. Every politician since getting rid of the British Rule must bear the responsibility to a greater or lesser extent. True, during the past 10 years, the downfall was accelerated, became obvious and created the current pitiful situation.
    Why didn’t they see they needed to pay off the part of the foreign debts in 2021 and thereafter have a honeymoon period prior to and save for that? Curtail borrowing? Corruption? Lack of common sense? This has only highlighted the ineptness of the self-centred, selfish, corrupt, ignorant lot of politicians and their administrative and civil acolytes. Their sins created the current suffering of ordinary citizens, while they enjoyed the pleasures of power and money they have acquired and accumulated through legal and illegal means. That’s where the root was and is.
    Time to destroy this system and start the painful process of rebuilding. Most people would be ready to bear the pain happily, knowing it is for the sake of future generations.

  2. bandu says:

    It is disappointing to hear only 100,000 people would take part in the July ’09 protest (in Colombo) to represent 22 million citizens. I’d expect at least a million people, countrywide should protest, not only to warn the current regime and its stooges but the international community, including the US, who overtly and covertly support and supported the corrupt regimes globally through and throughout history.
    This behavior of most Lankans who wait on the sidelines at home safe and sound for the others to suffer for them is pathetic.

Time right for elections, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna ready to face any poll: Basil

Sri Lanka’s former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa vacated his parliamentary seat on Thursday (09)

ECONOMYNEXT — The time has come for an election in Sri Lanka and the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is ready to face any election, SLPP national organiser Basil Rajapaksa said, dismissing claims that the party has come to fear elections in the face of growing unpopularity and increased factionalisation.

Speaking to reporters at an event held in Colombo Monday December 05 morning to mark the fourth anniversary of the party’s media centre, Rajapaksa handwaved off assertions that the SLPP has splintered in the wake of the mass protests that ousted his brother and former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“No, our party hasn’t fragmented, not the way this cake was cut,” he said, pointing to the cake that was cut to celebrate the media centre’s anniversary.

“There may be some [dissenters], but we are with the people,” said Rajapaksa.

Political analysts, however, note that the once mighty SLPP has indeed fractured to at least four or five distinct factions. One group, according to party sources, is with President Ranil Wickremesinghe who is keen to involve younger SLPP legislators in his economic reform agenda. The second is with former Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma who launched an unsuccessful bid for the presidency and was roundly defeated by Wickremesinghe at the July 19 presidential vote in parliament. The third group now sits as independent MPs in parliament, while a fourth faction are with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the SLPP patriarch.

There is another group that remains loyal to Basil Rajapaksa, though all but one SLPP legislator voted for the 21st amendment to the constitution that prohibited dual citizens from entering parliament. Rajapaksa, a dual citizen with US passport, recently returned to the island after a private visit to his second home.

The former finance minister, who resigned after a wave of protests that demanded his departure along with that of his presidential brother, for their alleged role in Sri Lanka’s prevailing currency crisis, the worst in decades, was in a jovial mood at the anniversary event on Monday and was seen heartily indulging reporters who were throwing loaded question after loaded question at him.

Asked about future plans of the SLPP, Rajapaksa quipped that they couldn’t be revealed to the media at this stage.

“However, time has come for an election. It’s difficult to say how it will be at present, but as a party, we’re ready to face any election,” he said.

Rajapaksa’s apparent confidence in facing an election is in direct contrast to speculation that the SLPP is banking on President Wickremesinghe’s refusal to dissolve parliament anytime soon. Opposition lawmakers have accused Wickremesinghe of providing sanctuary and promising security to the deeply unpopular party by not calling early elections.

“We have won every election we faced so far. We are thankful to the Sri Lankan people for that. If we were unable to meet their expectations 100 percent, we regret that. We will correct any shortcomings and will work to fulfill the people’s aspirations,” said Rajapaksa.

Asked if he is going to remain in active politics despite the blanket ban on dual citizens, the former minister said, again with a chuckle: “Active politics… well, I’m not in governance anymore. Governance [for me] has been banned by the 21st amendment. So no, I’m not in governance, but I am in politics,” he said.

Pressed about possibly entering parliament again, he said: “How can I?”

Nor is Rajapaksa saddened by the development, he claimed. “No, I’m happy about it,” he said.

The former two-time finance minister, noted for his clash of views with Wickremesinghe when the latter was invited by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a round of discussions on economic recovery, was cautiously complimentary when asked about the new president. It was the SLPP’s backing that guaranteed Wickremesinghe his lifelong ambition.

“I think that selection was the correct one. We have maintained from the start that all of us in government or opposition must be able to freely engage in politics,” he said, referring to assurances that the president has purportedly given SLPP parliamentarians that they will not face the kind of retaliatory mob violence that engulfed the nation on May 09 after alleged SLPP goons attacked peaceful anti-government protestors in Colombo.

A reporter asked if Rajapaksa believes the incumbent president is capable of taking the country on the right path to recovery?

“The first task was accomplished, by allowing us to engage in politics and to get on the streets. There are economic and other issues, and we have high hopes that they will be resolved,” he said. (Colombo/Dec05/2022)

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Sri Lanka proposed power tariff not to recover past losses: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – The government has not proposed a power tariff increase to recover past losses, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera in response to a statement attributed the head of the power regulator commission.

“The proposal that was presented was for an automatic cost reflective tariff mechanism to be implemented to supply uninterrupted power & to recover the current cost of power supply,” Minister Wijesekera said in twitter.com message.

“Govt has not proposed to recover past loses of CEB from a tariff revision…”

The cabinet of ministers had given the nod tariff revisions twice a year to prevent large losses from building up as in the past.

The Public Utilities Commission has disputed costs protected for the power utility saying the petroleum utility was keeping large margins in selling fuel.

The government in a budget for 2022 also proposed to tax surcharge to recover losses.

The regulator also disputed power demand forecasts.

Also read; Sri Lanka regulator disputes CEB costs, demand projections for 2023

The PUCSL cannot increase tariffs to recover past losses, Chairman Janaka Ratnayake said. (Colombo/Dec05/2022)

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Sri Lanka’s shares gain in mid market trade

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged up in mid day trade on Monday (05), continuing the positive run for seven straight sessions on news over a possible debt restructuring from Paris Club, analysts said.

All Share Price Index gained by 0.69% or 60.10 points to 8,829, while the most liquid shares gained by 0.96% or 26.59 points to 2,801.

“The market was pushed up over the news of a potential 10 year debt moratorium,” analysts said.

The Paris Club group of creditor nations has proposed a 10-year debt moratorium on Sri Lankan debt and 15 years of debt restructuring as a formula to resolve the island nation’s prevailing currency crisis. 

Related – Paris Club proposes 10-year moratorium in 15-year Sri Lanka debt re-structure: report

The market generated a revenue of 2.1 billion rupees.

Top gainers during 1130 hours were Expolanka, Browns Investment and LOLC.  (Colombo/Dec05/2022)

 

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