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Inflation protests turn to clashes at Sri Lanka president’s home

Demonstrators protest of hundreds of people outside Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's home in Colombo, on March 31, 2022. Photographer: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of protesters clashed with police outside Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence into the early hours on Friday amid widespread anger over surging living costs and daily power cuts stemming from a foreign-exchange crisis.

Local television channels showed crowds screaming “Go home Gota” at the house on the outskirts of Colombo. Police fired tear gas and water cannons after the demonstrators broke past the barricades and pelted stones, the Daily Mirror reported.

Nearly 50 people were injured and protesters set fire to an army bus and a jeep, the news website said. The police imposed a curfew in several areas of Colombo and its suburbs, which was later lifted on Friday 5:00 a.m. local time. No further incidents were reported and dozens of people were arrested for their role in the demonstrations.

Rajapaksa, who enjoys two-thirds parliamentary majority, has yet to comment on the clashes. National polls are due in 2023 at the earliest.

Breaking News:

Protests continue in Mirihana pic.twitter.com/KQW7v2s5X1

— DailyMirror (@Dailymirror_SL) March 31, 2022
There were reports of demonstrations across the country, with one group blocking a busy road from the capital to the central town of Kandy late on Thursday, setting fire to logs to block vehicles from moving, local media said.

Kandy-Colombo Road blocked at Dalugama, Kelaniya due to a protest. pic.twitter.com/6RKidJBcNP

— DailyMirror (@Dailymirror_SL) March 31, 2022
Rajapaksa’s government is grappling with debt obligations, limited foreign reserves and inflation which is the highest in Asia. People are queuing for hours for fuel and living with daily power cuts that stretch for more than half a day as supplies of diesel are running out and the government lacks the dollars to pay for shipments.

Sri Lanka Leader Ramps Up Spending in High-Risk Bid for Support

The government is seeking a loan from the International Monetary Fund while asking for bilateral aid from countries including China, India and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka has raised interest rates, devalued the rupee and reduced stock-trading hours in a bid to preserve electricity and foreign currency.

Sri Lanka, whose trade deficit doubled to $1.1 billion in December, had about $2.3 billion of foreign-exchange reserves in February and faces a $1 billion dollar bond repayment in July.

The IMF last month said Sri Lanka faces a “clear solvency problem” due to unsustainable debt levels, as well as persistent fiscal and balance-of-payments shorts.

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