COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who is under pressure to resign, was dealt a further blow on Wednesday when three more parliamentarians withdrew their support to the government.
Earlier this month, 39 lawmakers out of 156 MPs pulled their support to Rajapaksa in the 225-member Parliament.
The breakaway group, which sits independently, has declared not to align with any other coalition, including the Opposition.
The independent group demands the formation of an all-party interim government with the resignation of the Rajapaksa family from power.
Sri Lanka Muslim Council (SLMC) MP Faizal Cassim informed Parliament that he along with MPs Ishak Rahuman and M S Thowfeek will withdraw their support to the government.
The three MPs were part of the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) coalition, including from the SLMC. They had been Rajapaksa's allies since 2020 and voted for the controversial 20A which conferred absolute power on the President.
A heated exchange erupted on Wednesday morning when Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana denied a claim by main Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa that the Speaker told the party leaders that Rajapaksa was ready to resign if all party leaders requested him to do so.
Abeywardana, a member of the ruling coalition, said it was a misinterpretation by Premadasa. However, the main Opposition leader stood by his statement calling Abeywardana a liar.
An extended public protest, which began near Rajapaksa's secretariat on April 9 demanding Rajapaksa's resignation, entered on its 12th day. Sri Lanka is grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948.
The crisis is caused in part by a lack of foreign currency, which has meant that the country cannot afford to pay for imports of staple foods and fuel, leading to acute shortages and very high prices. The island nation is witnessing large-scale protests against the government's handling of the debt-ridden economy - the worst-ever economic crisis in the country's history.
Protests demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Sri Lanka Podujana (Peramuna)-led government have intensified as shortages continued and prices soared. Last week, the Sri Lankan government said it would temporarily default on USD 35.5 billion in foreign debt as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine made it impossible to make payments to overseas creditors.