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Sri Lanka

Anti-government protest strike in Sri Lanka shuts schools, businesses

Anti-government protest strike in Sri Lanka shuts schools, businesses
Security forces use tear gas and water canons to disperse protesters during a anti government rally outside the Parliament complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 05 May 2022. Thousands of protesters stage protest rally calling for the resignation of the president over the alleged failure to address the economic crisis outside the Parliament complex in Colombo. Sri Lanka's main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) handed over two No Confidence motions to the Speaker of the Parliament on 03 May, one against the government and another against the President. Protests have been rocking the country for weeks, calling for the president's resignation for failing to address the current economic crisis. EPA-EFE/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE

COLOMBO, May 6 (Reuters) - Thousands of shops, schools and businesses closed on Friday as public and private sector workers in Sri Lanka went on strike, demanding the president and the government step down for their mishandling of the island's worst financial crisis in decades.

Hit hard by the pandemic, rising oil prices and tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka has been left with as little as $50 million in useable foreign reserves, the country’s finance minister said this week.

Shortages of imported food, fuel and medicines has led to more than a month of sporadically violent anti-government protests.

On Friday, shops were shuttered in major cities around the country and commuters were left stranded as private bus and train operators joined the strike.

The main train station in Colombo’s commercial capital was closed on Friday morning and only public buses were operational at the terminal nearby.

Healthcare workers also joined the strike, though emergency services remained operational.

Hundreds of university students and other protesters remained camped outside the main road to parliament where they started a sit-in on Thursday. Some hung their underwear on the barricades as an insult to the political leadership. Messages like “Gotta go home” – a rallying cry from the protests – were scrawled on some of the underpants and vests.

“We are here because we are sick and tired of politicians lying to us. We want the president and this government to go home,” said Purnima Muhandiram, a 42-year-old advertising professional.

Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa told parliament on Friday the opposition wants to move a no-confidence motion against the president and the government next week.

Rajapaksa has refused to step down, instead repeatedly calling for a unity government led by him.

“We have called multiple times for the formation of a unity government or an interim government but it is the opposition that has refused to extend support,” chief government whip and public security minister Prasanna Ranatunge told parliament on Friday.

By Uditha Jayasinghe and Alasdair Pal.

(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore).

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