Thousands of workers in Sri Lanka were this week set to join the huge movement against the government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The country’s Collective of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations announced they and many other unions planned to strike on Wednesday.
The move will likely see a stream of health workers, government employees and plantation workers head to the streets. They would join the thousands that surround the Galle Face financial and political enclave in the capital, Colombo.
Protesters have demanded the end of the regime—and an end to the economic policies that have enriched the elite. “Nobody brought us here,” Charith Weliwatta, told Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times newspaper. His tea estate is yellowing because he can no longer afford fertiliser. We organised ourselves. Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Sinhalese, we are all here. They can’t divide us by race anymore.” Nimashi joined the protest with her husband and baby daughter. They took the night train from Polonnaruwa just to be part of it.
“There is an unhealthy concentration of power in the hands of a few persons,” the university student said. “Rulers are our servants. We appoint them through our vote but they have exploited us.” With protest numbers set to swell the Rajapaksa regime is in serious trouble.
Sri Lanka is in the grip of a huge economic crisis that has led to rampant inflation, power cuts and shortages of essential goods—including medicines. Under the rule of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka embarked on a bid for economic growth funded by huge debts. The gamble initially looked to have paid off, but eventually the state could barely afford the repayments. Then came the crises of Covid and the war in Ukraine. Sri Lanka’s massive tourist trade collapsed, while the cost of imports rose dramatically.
The International Monetary Fund is now planning a “bailout” loan. But that will come with strings—including cuts to government expenditure and subsidies on essential goods. That’s why protesters are right to insist that their movement is larger than the hated Rajapaksa family—it’s about the whole system.
Protests have spread across Sweden after the far right leader, Rasmus Paludan, said he burned a Quran and would do it again. Protesters took to the streets for four nights where Paludan’s Stram Kurs (Hard Line) group had planned demonstrations. Some were cancelled because of the strength of the anti-racist response.
In several cities, counter-protesters threw stones at the Stram Kurs members and set fire to vehicles. Police met this with a vicious response. Cops injured three people in the city of Norrkoping, who were hit by the ricochet from the police’s so-called “warning shots”.
India has likely suffered some 4 million Covid deaths, eight times the official count, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). New data from the WHO has found that vastly more people across the world have died from coronavirus than previously thought.
It says a total of about 15 million had lost their lives by the end of 2021, more than double the official total of 6 million reported by countries individually. More than a third of the additional 9 million deaths globally are estimated to have occurred in India. Hard right prime minister Narendra Modi continues to insist that just 520,000 Indians died from the disease.
Interim Pakistani president Shahbaz Sharif last week unleashed bombing raids in Afghanistan’s eastern regions of Khost and Kunar killing some 45 civilians, including five children.
Tensions between the two states have been on the rise recently, with the Pakistani government claiming that Islamic militants are carrying out terror attacks on its territory. But the Pakistani airstrike marks an escalation.
Some commentators suggest that Sharif is trying to send a signal to the US that he is prepared to lead a new government that will work more closely with them in the future. Imran Khan was recently ousted as Pakistan’s prime minister in a no-confidence vote.
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