Despite previous brutal crackdowns, protesters have gathered in Colombo to voice their frustrations over the dire economic situation.
Thousands of Sri Lankans protested in the capital Colombo on Thursday, with civil rights groups, trade unions and students expressing frustration over the economic situation and the brutal suppression of previous demonstrations.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, pushing many into poverty. The annual inflation rate for food is 85.8% and non-food prices are 62.8%. Sri Lanka’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is projected to contract by 8.7%.
Al Jazeera’s Minere Fernandez said protesters were frustrated because the ongoing economic crisis appeared to be “no signs of recovery”. “The cost of living is skyrocketing, food inflation is over 90% and people are really suffering,” she said.
The Trade Union Coordination Center started the rally. The United People’s Movement brought together trade unions and celebrities who led early protests to remove former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
This year’s uprising against Rajapaksa began on 31 March and ended with a raid on his residence on 9 July.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected president by a parliamentary vote on 21 July.
Wickremesinghe soon declared a state of emergency, giving the military broad powers, leading to a series of crackdowns on protesters and the arrest of several protest leaders.
After a brief wait-and-see period following the crackdown, “People are coming out again, and the reason is that the momentum seems unstoppable,” Fernandez said. “A few months ago it was just beginning to be felt at home tables, but now most families are really struggling.”
In August, the UN urged Wickremesinghe to end the crackdown, describing it as a “misuse of emergency measures”.
But with rising costs of living and the introduction of a series of tax increases, dissatisfaction in the island nation of 22 million appears to grow.
Sri Lanka is also suffering from poor economic management and a shortage of dollars due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s tourism market. This has left the country struggling to pay for essential imports such as food, fuel and medicine.
Sri Lanka will receive the bailout after reaching a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund for about $2.9 billion in loans. However, the deal is subject to financial guarantees from public creditors and negotiations with private creditors, and it is unclear when it will be issued.