First fatality as discontent spreads . . .
On Tuesday, protests in the Sri Lankan town of Rambukkana erupted in violence, with one person confirmed dead and 12 injured, including two in intensive care. Demonstrators had blocked a railway to protest fuel shortages when police opened fire on the crowd. Police released tear gas after the group refused to disperse, then began firing at the protesters to force them to leave. The Sri Lankan government imposed a curfew on the citizens of Rambukkana on Tuesday night, prompting the independent Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission to form a small panel to review the incident.
Worst economic crisis in living memory . . .
The economic crisis that has fuelled these protests was initially triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which severely reduced the tourism-related income that normally makes up roughly 10 per cent of the country’s GDP. But the crisis has been exacerbated by other factors, including large government expenditures, low foreign exchange reserves, and hefty debt payments. On Tuesday, the government revealed that it was forced to default on its C$63.81-billion debt, which has only increased concerns among citizens and prolonged the protests. Sri Lankans have had to combat rising food prices, which in March rose 30 per cent; rising fuel and oil prices; and regular power blackouts that can last up to 13 hours.
Seeking external support . . .
In the hope of combating the worst effects of the crisis, on Monday, a Sri Lankan delegation began talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure between C$3.75 to C$5 billion in loans. Although the discussions have only just begun, the IMF made it clear that any loans would depend on Sri Lanka’s ability to provide “adequate assurances” of a sustainable debt repayment schedule. Sri Lanka has already reached out to India for aid, and the Indian government has responded by providing C$1.25 billion in credit for necessities such as food and medicine, as well as C$625 million for fuel imports. While Sri Lanka is far from resolving its crisis, there is hope that with aid from the international community, the suffering of Sri Lankans will be reduced.