Sri Lanka government resigns after protesters defy curfew

Sri Lanka’s entire cabinet resigned on Sunday, with the exception of the president and his brother, the prime minister, after a social media blackout failed to prevent anti-government protests and the country’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told reporters that the 26 cabinet ministers had submitted their resignation letters at a late-night meeting.

Only the President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, remained in office.

The measure opens the way for the president to nominate a new government on Monday, in which some of the resignees could return to their posts.

The South Asian country is facing severe shortages of food, fuel and other goods, as well as inflation and record blackouts, in its worst crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.

It is also facing a state of emergency imposed after a mob attempted to storm the president’s home in the capital Colombo, prompting the government to impose a nationwide curfew from the weekend until Monday morning.

Hours earlier, the opposition alliance Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) denounced the blackout imposed on social networks to contain the growing public demonstrations and called on the government to resign.

“President Rajapaksa must understand that the tide has turned against his tyrannical rule,” MP Harsha de Silva told AFP.

Soldiers armed with automatic rifles intervened to prevent the protest of opposition MPs and hundreds of their supporters, who were trying to reach Independence Square in the capital.

The crowd engaged in a tense confrontation with the security forces for nearly two hours before dispersing them peacefully.

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Eran Wickramaratne, also an SLB lawmaker, condemned the restrictive measures and said, “We cannot allow military control. They should know that we are still a democracy.”

Internet services were ordered to block access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other social media, but this did not prevent small demonstrations elsewhere in Sri Lanka, most of which ended without incident.

Private media reported that the head of Sri Lanka’s Internet Regulatory Authority has resigned after the ban on social media came into effect.

The measure was later called off when the country’s Human Rights Commission decided that the government could not enforce censorship.

Colombo’s streets were generally empty on Sunday except for opposition protests and long lines of cars looking for fuel.

Some protests that took place on Sunday were postponed to Monday after the curfew was lifted.

The protests have divided the government, with Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa condemning social media censorship.

“I will not condone the blocking of social media,” Rajapaksa, the president’s nephew said.

He was one of the three family members who resigned from the government, along with Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and his brother Shamal, Agriculture Minister.

Western diplomats in Colombo have expressed concerns about the use of emergency laws to stifle democratic opposition and said they are monitoring developments closely.

Some solidarity protesters came out over the weekend in other countries, including the Australian city of Melbourne, with a large number of Sri Lankans in the diaspora.

A shortage of foreign currency has left the country in trouble to pay its $51,000 million foreign debt, and the pandemic has hit its income from tourism and remittances.

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Some economists say the crisis has been exacerbated by government mismanagement, years of indebtedness and inadequate tax cuts.

The country is negotiating a rescue agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

aj / gle / slb / to / mas / dga

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