Wave of protests across Sri Lanka

May 2, 2022
Anti-government protests in Sri Lanka on April 13
Anti-government protests in Sri Lanka on April 13. Photo: Wikipedia

Sri Lankan police opened fire on a demonstration in the town of Rambukkana on April 19, killing one person and injuring 14.

The demonstration was part of a wave of protests that has spread throughout Sri Lanka in recent weeks, sparked by an economic crisis. The country has suffered shortages of food, medicine, petrol, diesel, cooking gas and other commodities. There have been electricity blackouts.

Protesters blame official corruption and nepotism, and have called for the resignation of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government. The cabinet resigned on April 3, but the president did not.

Certainly, corruption and nepotism are part of the problem. The prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the finance minister Basil Rajapaksa and other members of the Rajapaksa family held prominent positions in the government.

However, Sri Lanka's problems are not limited to the behaviour of one family. British colonial rule left Sri Lanka dependent on the export of a few commodities, notably tea. Little has been done to diversify the economy.

Tourism has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The war in Ukraine has raised the cost of importing oil and grain.

Another problem is excessive spending on the armed forces, which diverts resources away from social welfare and production for people's needs. Even after the end of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were fighting an independent Tamil homeland in response to the racism of the Sri Lankan state, Tamil areas in the north and east of the island remain under military occupation.

Up to now there has been only limited Tamil participation in the current wave of protests. No doubt this is largely due to severe repression in Tamil areas, but Tamil distrust of a protest movement that is predominantly Sinhala in composition may also be a factor.

However, the movement is not exclusively Sinhala. There has been significant participation by Muslims, which is positive given that the government has a history of promoting anti-Muslim prejudice.

Green Left Radio spoke to Sri Lankan human rights activist Lionel Bopage about the protest movement on April 8. Listen to the interview here.

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