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Sri Lankans occupy president’s office entrance for second day

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) – Sri Lankan protesters occupied the entrance to the president’s office for a second day yesterday, demanding Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign over the debt-ridden country’s worst economic crisis in memory.

Hundreds of demonstrators weathered heavy rain with raincoats and umbrellas and chanted anti-government slogans. Some called for the entire Parliament to disband to make way for a younger leadership.

“We will stay on, we will leave only when we have chased them out,” 32-year-old ex-soldier Sanjeewa Pushpakumara said of Rajapaksa, his family and all the lawmakers.

Pushpakumara said he fought in the last stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war with ethnic Tamil rebels, which government soldiers won in 2009. Both Rajapaksa, who served as a powerful defence bureaucrat, and his older brother Mahinda, who was then president and is currently prime minister, were credited with the victory.

“We will send them home, take the people’s money back and send them to jail,” said Pushpakumara. “These people are destroying the country that we saved and it is sad to see the army and police protecting them.”

Supporters distributed food, water and raincoats to the protesters.

The Indian Ocean island nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, saddled with USD25 billion foreign debt – nearly USD7 billion of which is due this year alone – and dwindling foreign reserves.

Talks with the International Monetary Fund are expected later this month, and the government had turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.

For months, Sri Lankans have stood in long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicines, most of which come from abroad and are paid for in hard currency. The fuel shortage has caused rolling power cuts lasting several hours a day.

Protestors rest outside the president’s office in Colombo. PHOTO: AP
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