COLOMBO: The trade unions in Sri Lanka on Friday launched a crippling island-wide strike to demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government over its inability to tackle the economic meltdown which has caused unprecedented hardships to the public.
Sri Lanka's government has been facing a wave of protests around the country with an increasingly furious public demanding its resignation.
All trade unions of health, postal, port and other government services have joined the strike. However, several pro-ruling party trade unions have declined to join.
Businesses remained shut and roads appeared empty in most usually crowded areas.
"Over 2,000 trade unions are joining us. Still, we will provide urgent and emergency services," Ravi Kumudesh of the Joint Trade Union Action group said.
"Today's one day action is to tell the president that he should step down along with the government. If our pleas are not heeded we will go into continuous strike action from May 11 until the government resigned," Kumudesh said.
Mahinda Jayasinghe of the teachers' trade union said school principals and teachers won't attend school on Friday.
The privately-owned bus operators said they would anyway find it difficult to run services due to long queues prevailing at fuel stations for diesel.
"No diesel to run buses", Gamunu Wijeratne of the private bus owners' association said.
The state transport Chair, Kingsley Ranawaka said they would provide extra buses on Friday to maintain transport.
The students who staged a protest walk to parliament on Thursday occupied the road at the main entrance of parliament.
The police fired tear gas at them last night but they continued with their sit-in even in heavy rains.
They have set up the third protest village 'Horu go home gama' or 'crooks go home village' at the Parliament main entrance.
Since April 9, the protesters have been staying near the presidential secretariat in the 'Gota go home gama' or Gotabaya Go home village and since April 26 the 'Mynah go home village' or 'Mahinda Go Home Village'.
The Inter-University Students' Federation activists who occupy the parliamentary entrance say they would continue until the whole government resigned.
Sri Lanka is currently in the throes of 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.
Thousands of demonstrators have hit the streets across Sri Lanka since April 9, as the government ran out of money for vital imports; prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed and there are acute shortages in fuel, medicines and electricity supply.
Despite mounting pressure, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his elder brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have refused to quit, taking responsibility for the economic crisis.
On Thursday, they won a key election in Parliament when their candidate convincingly won the race for the post of Deputy Speaker.