Thousands of Sri Lankans celebrate New Year at anti-government protest site


COLOMBO (Reuters) – At an auspicious time early on Thursday, Dilani Jayaratne lit a small wooden fireplace to boil a small pot of milk to mark the beginning of Sri Lanka’s New Year.

The island nation’s Sinhala and Tamil communities often conduct the ceremony at residence. But this 12 months, Jayaratne and her household had been at a tent camp in Sri Lanka’s industrial capital Colombo, the place hundreds of persons are protesting in opposition to the federal government’s dealing with of a devastating financial disaster.

Demonstrations have raged throughout Sri Lanka for weeks as individuals angered by extended energy cuts and shortages of gas and medication demand President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation.

Jayaratne, 38, stated she left residence along with her husband and two younger sons round daybreak and travelled for greater than an hour to succeed in the protest site in Colombo positioned close to Rajapaksa’s workplace, which has been named “Gota-Go Village” by some.

“We can not simply sit at residence,” stated Jayaratne, including that she hoped the protests would stress Rajapaksa to go away the presidency.

Behind her, dozens of protesters lined up exterior a tent the place volunteers had been distributing squares of kiribath or coconut milk rice, bananas, spicy pickles, and butter cake on paper plates – conventional New Year delicacies that had been donated by supporters.

“We used to say greatest needs for the New Year,” stated Jayaratna Teekanoon, 56, as he handed out bananas. “Now we are saying greatest needs for the wrestle.”

In a New Year’s message, Rajapaksa stated the present disaster was the largest problem the nation had confronted in recent times. “We ought to overcome this problem with unity and higher understanding,” he stated in an announcement.

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka stated it could droop compensation of exterior money owed forward of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a mortgage programme, as an alternative utilizing its meagre international reserves to offer necessities to its 22 million individuals.

Besides shortages, Sri Lankans are additionally battling rocketing inflation that has hit middle-class households like that of Okay.D.H. Kumara, a 44-year-old mechanic who stated he was unable to satisfy family bills and repay loans.

“I used to be somebody who supported this president from the center. I voted for Rajapaksa and even organised marketing campaign conferences for him,” stated Kumara, carrying his two-year-old son who was munching away at a chunk of kiribath.

“But now I’m extraordinarily unhappy and disheartened. Things are so unhealthy I can barely feed by household,” Kumara stated.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered nearer to the colonial-era presidential secretariat, some waving the Sri Lankan flag. Other carried hand-written posters demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and different members of his highly effective household which have lengthy dominated Sri Lankan politics.

Behind tall barricades, a contingent of helmeted police watched the protesters as they shouted slogans.

The president’s elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, presently serves as prime minister. Their youthful brother, Basil Rajapaksa, was finance minister till earlier this month. Other members of the household additionally maintain authorities positions.

Carefully watching the pot of milk boil over, Jayaratne stated she introduced her sons to the site to point out them the dimensions of the protests which have introduced collectively Sri Lankans, slicing throughout ethnic, financial and spiritual divisions.

“My sons should know the reality. They should expertise what is de facto occurring on this nation,” she stated.

“They will keep in mind this New Year for the remaining of their lives.”

(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe and Devjyot Ghoshal in COLOMBO; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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