Sri Lanka protesters vow to continue anti-government campaign despite new PM

Underwears are placed by protesters during the trade unions' nationwide Harthal, a peaceful protest, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his cabinet in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 6, 2022. ― Reuters pic
Underwears are placed by protesters during the trade unions’ nationwide Harthal, a peaceful protest, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his cabinet in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 6, 2022. ― Reuters pic

COLOMBO, May 13 — Sri Lanka’s new prime minister will begin forming a unity government on Friday, but his appointment has failed to appease anti-government protesters demanding the resignation of the president for the country’s disastrous economic crisis.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed veteran opposition politician Ranil Wickremesinghe as the island nation’s prime minister late on Thursday after a week of violent clashes that left nine people dead and over 300 injured.

The president’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, quit as prime minister on Monday as the violence spiralled and is in hiding in a military base.

“We will stop this struggle when our people get justice,” said Chamalage Shivakumar, one of the hundreds of people who have camped out at a protest site in the main city Colombo.

“Whoever they appoint as prime minister, we will not stop this struggle until people get relief.”

Wickremesinghe is the only lawmaker from his United National Party in the country’s parliament and will be reliant on rival political parties to form a government. An alliance led by the Rajapaksas holds about 100 of parliament’s 225 seats, while the opposition has 58 seats. The rest are independent.

Protesters said the appointment of Wickremesinghe will do little to ease the anger against the president, who they say is ultimately responsible for the worst economic crisis to hit the nation since it became independent in 1948.

Buffeted hard by the pandemic, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the Gotabaya brothers, Sri Lanka is critically low on foreign exchange, and rampant inflation and fuel shortages have brought thousands onto the street in a month of protests that had remained predominantly peaceful until this week. — Reuters