Sri Lankan protesters hold mock Cabinet meeting; China asks its nationals not to take part in stir

The public flocked to the Presidential Secretariat, President's House and Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister after they were taken over by protestors on Saturday.

Published: 11th July 2022 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th July 2022 12:00 AM   |  A+A-

Protesters look around at the president's official residence a day after it was stormed in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, July 10, 2022. (Photo | AP)


COLOMBO: Anti-government protesters occupying the residence of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa here on Sunday held a mock Cabinet meeting and "discussions with the IMF" to ridicule the government led by him, a day after they stormed into the complex in fury over the nation's crippling economic crisis.

The public flocked to the Presidential Secretariat, President's House and Temple Trees, the official residence of the prime minister after they were taken over by protestors on Saturday.

The protesters said they would not leave until Rajapaksa resigned.

In the mock Cabinet meeting, the protesters discussed the arson attack on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's house.

They held a mock IMF discussion involving a foreigner who had visited the premises along with the other protestors.

On Saturday, the protesters were seen in the bedrooms and splashing around in the swimming pool of the President's House.

Rajapaksa, 73, appears to have gone underground in the face of massive public anger over the unprecedented economic crisis since the country became independent in 1948.

ALSO READ | EXPLAINER | Why Sri Lanka's economy collapsed and what's next for the island nation

He informed Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena from an undisclosed location that he will step down on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has also offered to resign.

The cash-starved island nation witnessed a tumultuous day on Saturday when protesters broke into Rajapaksa's official residence in Colombo.

Protesters did not spare Prime Minister Wickremesinghe despite his offer to resign and set on fire his private residence in an affluent neighbourhood in the capital.

Wickremesinghe on Saturday expressed willingness to resign when a new government is formed.

He stressed that to deal with the International Monetary Fund on an assistance programme and to deal with shortages of essentials including food and fuel, it was important not to leave a vacuum.

In May, President Rajapaksa's elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had to quit in the face of massive anti-government protests.

The Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya, were hailed by many in Sri Lanka as heroes for winning the civil war against the LTTE but they are now blamed for the country's worst economic crisis.

Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million people, is under the grip of an unprecedented economic turmoil, the worst in seven decades, crippled by an acute shortage of foreign exchange that has left it struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, and other essentials.

ALSO READ | Sri Lanka crisis: Opposition parties agree to form all-party interim government after Rajapaksa's resignation

The country, with an acute foreign currency crisis that resulted in foreign debt default, had announced in April that it is suspending nearly USD 7 billion foreign debt repayment due for this year out of about USD 25 billion due through 2026.

Sri Lanka's total foreign debt stands at USD 51 billion.

China, which has invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka, has warned hundreds of its nationals in the country not to participate in any protests there, as it watched warily the fast unfolding crisis in the island nation where large masses of people raided the President's palace and burnt the Prime Minister's residence.

The Chinese Embassy in Colombo issued a notice on Saturday, reminding Chinese nationals in Sri Lanka to pay close attention to the local security situation and abide by local laws and regulations after the protests spread, state-run Global Times here reported.

It asked Chinese nationals not to participate in any protests, the report said.

The embassy reminded Chinese nationals not to participate in or watch any protests after hundreds of thousands of protesters stormed and occupied the presidential palace and set the Sri Lankan prime minister's private residence on fire in Colombo to demand the government take responsibility for mismanaging the nation's finances and for the crippling food and fuel shortages faced by the country, the report added.

The embassy also suggested that Chinese nationals be vigilant, stay safe, avoid going out, keep communication open and keep updated with the embassy's notices and reminders, it said.

Hundreds of Chinese nationals reportedly work in various Chinese projects being built with billions of dollars of investments.

ALSO READ | IMF closely monitoring situation in Sri Lanka; hopes for political crisis resolution to resume bailout deal talks

These projects included Hambantota port, which China has acquired for a 99-year lease as a debt swap and the Colombo port city project which is being built on reclaimed land from the sea.

Both the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe offered to quit on Saturday after protesters stormed the government district in Colombo over the worst economic crisis that hit Sri Lanka.

For its part, China has provided a few million dollars of aid and recently sent a large shipment of rice but for inexplicable reasons did not provide the large-scale monetary assistance sought by President Rajapaksa or his brother former Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa and their pleas to defer repayment of Chinese loans.

Following the economic crisis, Sri Lanka also defaulted on USD 51 billion in foreign debt which included Chinese loans.

Also in a rare gesture China last month "commended" India's efforts to assist Sri Lanka to deal with the worst financial crisis by providing over USD 3.5 billion in fuel and food assistance.

"We have taken note that the Indian government has also done a lot in this regard. We commend those efforts", Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here on June 8.

The Global Times report said on Saturday the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong attended a ceremony to hand over the donation of 7,060 food packs worth USD 150,000 by the Red Cross Society of China to Nuwara Eliya city in Sri Laka's Central Province.

During the ceremony, Qi stated that China sympathizes with Sri Lanka, which is facing multiple difficulties and challenges at the present time.

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