Sri Lanka: timeline of a crisis

COLOMBO – Sri Lanka is mired in a deep political and economic crisis and on Saturday (9) the country’s president offered his resignation after being forced to flee his residence in the face of a huge crowd of protesters who eventually stormed the compound.

The island nation of 22 million people has suffered months of lengthy blackouts, acute food and fuel shortages and galloping inflation in its most painful downturn on record.

Months of protests have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose government has been blamed for chronic mismanagement of the country’s finances.

The South Asian country emerged from a devastating civil war in 2009, only to be rocked by Islamist bombings in 2019, before being hit hard the following year by the Covid-19 pandemic which left the island bereft of tourists.

Here is a look back at how the crisis has unfolded:

– April 1: State of emergency –

Rajapaksa declares a temporary state of emergency, giving security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects, after a spate of protests.

– April 3: Cabinet resigns –

Almost all of Sri Lanka’s cabinet resigns at a late-night meeting, leaving Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda – the prime minister – isolated.

The governor of the central bank, having resisted calls to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announces his resignation a day later.

– April 5: President loses majority –

President Rajapaksa’s problems deepen as finance minister Ali Sabry resigns just a day after he was appointed.

The embattled leader loses his parliamentary majority as former allies urge him to quit. He lifts the state of emergency.

– April 10: Medicine shortages –

Sri Lanka’s doctors say they are nearly out of life-saving medicines, warning that the crisis could end up killing more than the coronavirus pandemic.

– April 12: Foreign debt default –

The government announces it is defaulting on its foreign debt of $51 billion as a “last resort” after running out of foreign exchange to import desperately needed goods.

– April 19: First casualty – 

Police kill a protester, the first casualty of several weeks of anti-government protests.

The next day the IMF says it has asked Sri Lanka to restructure its colossal external debt before a rescue package can be agreed.

– May 9: Day of violence –

A mob of government loyalists bussed in from the countryside attack peaceful protesters camped outside the president’s seafront office in Colombo.

Nine people are killed and hundreds more injured in the reprisal attacks that follow, with crowds targeting those responsible for the violence and setting fire to the homes of lawmakers.

Mahinda Rajapaksa resigns as prime minister, and has to be rescued by troops after thousands of protesters storm his residence in Colombo.

He is replaced by Ranil Wickremesinghe, a political veteran who had already served several terms as premier.

– May 10: Shoot-to-kill orders –

The defence ministry orders troops to shoot on sight anyone involved in looting or “causing harm to life”.

But protesters defy a fresh government curfew, which is rolled back at the end of the week.

The top police officer in Colombo is assaulted and his vehicle set ablaze.

– June 10: ‘Humanitarian emergency’ –

The United Nations warns that Sri Lanka is facing a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions already in need of aid.

More than three-quarters of the population had reduced their food intake due to the country’s severe food shortages, the UN says.

– June 27: Fuel sales suspended –

The government says Sri Lanka is nearly out of fuel and halts all petrol sales except for essential services.

– July 1: New inflation record –

The government publishes data showing inflation has hit a record high for the ninth consecutive month, a day after the IMF asks Sri Lanka to rein in high prices and galloping inflation.

– July 9: President’s home stormed – 

President Rajapaksa flees his official residence in Colombo with the assistance of troops, shortly before demonstrators storm the compound, and he is taken to an undisclosed location offshore.

Footage from inside the residence shows jubilant protesters jumping in the pool and exploring its stately bedrooms.

Wickremesinghe’s residence is set on fire. Police say he and his family were not at the scene.

Rajapaksa later offers to step down on July 13, parliamentary speaker Mahinda Abeywardana says in a televised statement.

-Agence France-Presse


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