Scores of Sri Lankans on Thursday marked Sinhala and Tamil New Year at their agitation site in Colombo, as they relentlessly protest the Rajapaksa government’s “failed response” to the country’s crushing economic depression.
Some boiled milk, shared sweets, sang, danced, and played games associated with the country’s biggest festival at ‘Gotagogama’ or Gota go village, a name that protesters have given the area, after their main demand. They want President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to take responsibility for the crisis that has left citizens struggling without essentials, and resign immediately.
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The citizen’s uprising that has been building up for more than a month intensified over the last week with protesters, especially youth, deciding to ‘Occupy Galle Face’, the sea-facing stretch near the Presidential Secretariat. Dozens of tents have sprung up in the area, where some demonstrators stay overnight, and thousands gather at the venue through the day and well into the night, carrying posters sharply critical of the government. President Gotabaya will not resign, a senior minister has said, while Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has asked protesters to be “patient”. Mr. Mahinda’s outreach on the eve of the New Year, offering to hold talks with the protesters was rejected by many groups.
Sri Lanka usually shuts down for almost a week around New Year, when most return to their villages to celebrate with family. Colombo is especially quiet, very different to the current vibe of largescale protests.
“I am here because our country’s future is now a big question mark. We are here even on New Year’s Day because that is how badly we want a change. The Rajapaksas must go,” said a protester. “I am a businessman, and unable to import anything because we have no dollars left in the country. We have no other option but to come and protest,” said a middle-aged man, who was participating with his wife.
Late on Wednesday night, several families including children and even infants were spotted at the protest, with ‘Gotagohome’ headbands wrapped around their tiny foreheads. The agitations have drawn not only youth, professionals, middle class families, businessmen, religious groups, but also popular artistes, who now make frequent appearances at ‘Gotagogama’, and perform to express solidarity. Earlier this week, iconic Sinhalese singer Nanda Malini was seen at the protest site, cheered by the crowd as she broke into a song.
‘Occupy Galle Face’: A tent city of resistance beside Colombo’s seat of power
Meanwhile, the political opposition is planning to intervene in Parliament next week, with a No Confidence Motion against the government, and by holding large protest marches. The government, which appears reluctant to step down amid enduring public pressure, has announced two crucial decisions since the crisis aggravated. Sri Lanka will soon hold talks with the International Monetary Fund for a support package, and announced a default on its $ 51 billion outstanding foreign debt, denting its unblemished record in debt servicing.