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An update on the crisis in Sri Lanka

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to go to Sri Lanka now. There has been another day of confusion, this after days of chaos. The president fled the country on Wednesday but didn't resign. And the man he made acting president isn't welcomed by many protesters who've brought the country to a standstill in recent days after a monthslong economic meltdown, many blame on the government. A curfew was imposed overnight in the capital, Colombo, and a state of emergency remains in effect. Reporter Raksha Kumar has been following the story, and she joins us now. Thank you so much for being here.

RAKSHA KUMAR, BYLINE: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: Just explain what the situation is right now. I mean, have things quieted down at all since yesterday?

KUMAR: So, Rachel, yeah, it looks a bit like things are slightly quiet since yesterday because the protesters have announced that they will be leaving the buildings that they have occupied since the weekend. So the presidential palace, the prime minister's official residence and certain other official buildings as well. Curfew has been lifted in the western provinces, but curfew remains in Colombo, the capital, until Friday. So the speaker of the Parliament, who belongs to Rajapaksa's party, has asked for Rajapaksa to submit his resignation or he said, quote, "we'll consider other options to remove him." So there's a lot of confusion, really. Rajapaksa was supposed to return to the country and kind of turn it around economically when he was elected in 2019. But that's clearly not happened.

MARTIN: What did happen? How did things get so bad? Because the protesters, I mean, they're demanding economic reforms, right? What do they want to see happen?

KUMAR: Yeah. So they obviously want some economic stability in the country. However, they are aware that political stability is the immediate requirement. So the protesters I spoke to are saying that they want a president who will be accountable to the Parliament. So Sri Lanka now has something called an executive presidency where the president is actually above the Constitution. So they want that abolished. It's also important to note that the protesters have largely been nonviolent, except for when the administration has used tear gas and water cannons on them.

MARTIN: So this is the political problem that's most urgent. But talk a little bit about how the economic situation deteriorated so badly.

KUMAR: So the Sri Lankan economists I spoke to said that there were a slew of bad decisions that the Rajapaksa government took. So top of the list would be tax cuts for the rich and a sudden ban on chemical fertilizers for the farmers. So what this meant was that Sri Lankan farmers could not produce as much as they used to, and that also meant that the country did not have food security anymore. The situation only worsened because of COVID, especially because the country is reliant on tourism. And the Ukraine war kind of pushed the country over the edge, in many ways because supply chains for important goods were cut.

So before the protests, Sri Lanka was negotiating with the International Monetary Fund to try and find a way out of the current economic situation that it found itself in. But, of course, now, with everything being so uncertain politically, it's hard to see how or when those talks will resume with the IMF.

MARTIN: Reporter Raksha Kumar in Mumbai, thank you so much.

KUMAR: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Raksha Kumar