Sri Lankan protestors, including some celebrities, welcomed the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year outside the presidential secretariat by boiling milk and distributing traditional sweets on Thursday, the sixth day of their anti-government stir demanding resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his powerful family for mishandling the country’s worst economic crisis.
Protesters are occupying the entrance and surroundings of President Gotabaya's office, holding him responsible for the economic situation.
The protesters on Wednesday rejected Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapksa’s offer for talks and demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya and all members of his family from the government.
The protestors hailed the dawning of the new year at 8.41 am and then boiled milk at the auspicious time of 9.07 am. The spill of milk at the auspicious time is the indication of well being in the New Year. At 10.17 am, the time for the first meal in the new year, they distributed the traditional sweets outside the president's office where they have been camping since Saturday.
Social media posts from the participants said they were unwilling to have any talks unless the Rajapaksas quit from all positions in the government.
The protest is being carried out round-the-clock by youths demanding a total transformation of the ''corrupt political culture'', which they claim has been prevailing in the island nation since it gained Independence from Britain in 1948.
Several celebrities, musicians, artists and writers have joined the protests. On Thursday, veteran musician Victor Ratnayake joined the protesters at the site. Roshan Mahanama, the celebrity cricketer who was a member of the 1996 World Cup winning team, also participated in the protest.
Faced with critically low forex reserves, the government announced on April 12 that it is suspending repayments of foreign debt, including bonds and government-to-government borrowing, pending a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.
Sri Lanka had to meet USD 7 billion of debt payments this year.
Meanwhile, international rating agency Fitch on Thursday downgraded the island’s sovereign rating to ‘C’ from ‘CCC’. Sri Lanka on April 18 has to pay a bond valued USD 1250 million. Fitch will be issuing a restricted default rating RD after the April 18 payment is not paid.
The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, continue to hold power, despite their politically powerful family being the focus of public ire. The Rajapaksas have refused to resign but the crisis and ongoing protests have prompted many Cabinet members to quit. Four ministers were sworn in as caretakers, but many key government portfolios are vacant.
The government remains unable to appoint its new Cabinet after the Opposition parties declined to join the call to form a unity Cabinet.
President Gotabaya has defended his government's actions, saying the foreign exchange crisis was not his making and the economic downturn was largely pandemic driven by the island nation’s tourism revenue and inward remittances waning.