Colombo: Crisis-hit Sri Lanka’s cabinet resigned en masse from their positions at a late-night meeting Sunday, the education minister said. However, Mahinda Rajapaksa will continue to remain Prime Minister.
The resignations come hours after the PM’s Office refuted reports of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation, calling them “false” and adding that there are no such plans at present.
Namal Rajapaksa, the eldest son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, tweeted after resigning as the Youth and Sports Minister: “I have informed the sec. to the President of my resignation from all portfolios with immediate effect, in hope that it may assist HE & PMs decision to establish stability for the people & the govt of #LKA. I remain committed to my voters, my party & the people of #Hambanthota (SIC).”
Earlier on Sunday, students protested outside the Peradeniya University against the economic crisis. Cops used tear gas and water cannon to try and disperse the protesters, who are defying a weekend curfew imposed by the government.
Hundreds joined the march by Opposition leaders in the capital Colombo before it was stopped near the home of opposition leader Sajith Premadasa by a large group of police and soldiers carrying assault rifles.
The Sri Lankan government on Saturday blocked access to all social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube, in its latest bid to quell protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The ban was lifted on Sunday afternoon after the PM’s son Namal Rajapaksa spoke against it.
A 36-hour curfew, which began on Saturday at 6 pm, will continue till Monday at 6 am – a period that saw mass anti-government protests against worsening shortages of fuel, food and medicines. At least 664 people have been arrested for violating the curfew, officials said.
The curfew and state of emergency in the near-bankrupt country came as social media posts called for protests on Sunday. “Do not be deterred by tear gas, very soon they will run out of dollars to re-stock,” said one post encouraging people to protest even if police attempt to break up gatherings.
The tough laws allow the military to arrest and detain suspects for long periods without trial. In his defence, Mr Rajapaksa has said that the state of emergency was needed to protect public order and maintain essential supplies and services.
“#GoHomeRajapaksas” and “#GotaGoHome” have been trending for days on Twitter and Facebook in the island nation, which is battling severe shortages of essentials, sharp price rises and crippling power cuts in its most painful downturn since independence from Britain in 1948.
The ongoing crisis – the result of economic mismanagement by successive governments – has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit tourism and remittances. It has also marked a sharp turnaround in political support for Mr Rajapaksa, who swept to power in 2019 promising stability.