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Loyalists turn on Sri Lanka PM as protest pressure grows

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s beleaguered prime minister came under increased pressure to step down yesterday, as a Cabinet minister and other senior party members backed street protests calling for resignations over a worsening economic crisis.

Media Minister Nalaka Godahewa announced his support for the thousands outside President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office who are demanding he and other members of his powerful family quit power.

Sri Lanka is suffering its most painful economic downturn since independence in 1948, with months of lengthy blackouts and acute shortages of food, fuel and other essentials.

The crisis has sparked countrywide protests, with angry demonstrators camped outside Rajapaksa’s office for more than three weeks.

Under pressure, the president dropped two of his brothers – Chamal and Basil – and nephew Namal from the cabinet this month, but protesters rejected the changes as cosmetic.

Godahewa, previously a staunch Rajapaksa loyalist, said the president should sack his elder brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – the head of the family – and allow an all-party interim government to take over.

He said the government had lost its credibility after the police killing of a protester on Tuesday.

Godahewa said he had offered his resignation but President Rajapaksa had not accepted it.

“We need to restore political stability to successfully meet the economic crisis,” Godahewa said in a statement on his Facebook page.

“The entire Cabinet, including the prime minister, should resign and (there should be) an interim cabinet that can win the confidence of all.”

A policeman stands guard in front of a banner during an anti-government demonstration in Colombo. PHOTO: AFP