By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2084

Prime minister goes in Sri Lanka as strikes grow

Militant protests and general strikes have toppled prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, but the president remains
Issue 2084
Sri Lankan university students protest

Sri Lankan university students demand president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation near the parliament in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Saman Abesiriwardana/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press Wire)

Amid mass protests and general strikes, the hated prime minister of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has resigned. Protesters set fire to his house and those of many of his MPs and political allies in a night of militant unrest on Monday.  

There was fierce fighting between protesters and the police. At least five people have died and dozens more are injured. One MP died after a clash with demonstrators in the town of Nittambuwa near the capital, Colombo.

In response the government has enforced a state of emergency as the protesters’ frustrations grow. It unleashed thousands of troops to enforce a nationwide curfew and to protect the ­remaining politicians. 

Protests have raged for months against the current regime and an ongoing economic crisis. People are furious at the ­mismanagement and corruption of the country’s ruling party that has lived in luxury as working class people suffer soaring prices and power outages. 

Rajapaksa’s resignation is a move to try and calm the demonstrations. But those on the streets won’t be satisfied until his despised brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa is thrown from his presidential position. A general strike brought Sri Lanka to a standstill last Friday. Businesses ground to a halt, and shops and factories had to be shut as workers downed tools.  Public transport didn’t run as train and bus workers joined the strike. Health workers also joined.

The postal union called all of its members across the island out, and teachers on strike closed the schools. Trade union leader Ravi Kumudesh said, “We can pinpoint the policy blunders of the president that led to this very sorry state of our economy. He must go.

“Friday’s one day action is to tell the president that he should step down along with the government. If our pleas are not heeded we will go into continuous strike action from May 11 until the government resigns.”

Hundreds of students continue to block streets and camp on the main road to the parliament in the country’s capital, Colombo. They hung their underwear from the barricades they had constructed in an insult to the president and chanted, “Gota, go home.” 

Students say they will occupy the streets until Gotabaya Rajapaksa steps down. But as workers’ involvement in the protests increases, so does the state aggression. Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency for the second time in just over a month and ­introduced new laws that would give the state more powers to crush dissent. 

These laws give the police powers to arrest suspects for long periods without any judicial supervision. Relentless protests and strikes have meant that a central figure in the government has been forced to step down. But getting rid of just one corrupt leader won’t be enough. The Sri Lankan people must stay on the streets to win not just a reshuffle of mainstream parties, but a total transformation of economic and political life.

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