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Sri Lanka opposition rejects proposed unity government

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Sri Lanka’s largest opposition party rejected the president’s invitation to form a unity government, as protests continued yesterday over the country’s worst economic crisis in memory and deepening mistrust in his leadership.

All 26 Cabinet ministers handed in their resignations on Sunday night after thousands of people defied a state of emergency and curfew and joined street protests denouncing the government.

A Monday statement from the office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who assumed emergency powers by decree at midnight on Friday, said he “invites all political parties represented in the Parliament to come together to accept ministerial portfolios in order to find solutions to this national crisis”.

The largest opposition political party, the United People’s Force, or SJB, immediately rejected the unity government proposal.

“The people of this country want Gotabaya and the entire Rajapaksa family to go and we can’t go against the people’s will and we can’t work alongside the corrupt,” top SJB official Ranjth Madduma Banadara told The Associated Press.

SJB has 54 lawmakers in the 225-member Parliament. Its rejection of the president’s request is likely to result in continued uncertainty and protests, which were held throughout the country yesterday. A countrywide curfew was lifted on Monday morning.

The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, continued to hold onto power, despite their politically powerful family being the focus of public ire. Two other brothers, Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa, were among those who resigned, along with the prime minister’s son, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.

Those resignations were seen as the family’s effort to pacify public anger while retaining executive, defence and lawmaking powers.

The Central Bank’s top official, accused of economic mismanagement, also resigned
on Monday.

Sri Lankans protest demanding president Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign. PHOTO: AP