Hundreds of angry protestors gathered outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence in Colombo late on Thursday night, after the island experienced a 13-hour-long power cut amid Sri Lanka’s worsening economic meltdown.
Riot police were swiftly deployed to the spot. They used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, but those agitating endured at the spot, chanting “Gota go home” in Sinhala. Many were holding posters with anti-government slogans, and demanded that the government step out immediately, having “mishandled” the country’s economy.
Over the last few weeks, Sri Lanka has witnessed a severe crisis unfold rapidly. Acute shortages of food, fuel and cooking gas and sky rocketing costs have led to a growing public resentment. Triggered by a long-brewing Balance of Payments problem, that heightened after the pandemic and led to a dollar crunch late last year, the crisis swiftly escalated from the beginning of this year, hitting Sri Lankans hard.
While the political opposition has held massive demonstrations, citizens’ groups have independently been organising daily and weekly protests at different localities, asking the government to step down.
“I am well aware of the difficulties faced by the people,” President Rajapaksa said in a televised address on March 16, vowing to take “tough decisions” to find solutions. However, he faces widespread criticism over “mismanagement”.
The series of protests held recently has remained largely peaceful until Thursday, when hundreds of men and women took their anger to the President’s doorstep.
The current crisis has emerged as the ruling administration’s biggest political challenge yet, after President Rajapaksa’s thumping poll victory in 2019, and his party’s subsequent big win in the 2020 general elections.