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Sri Lanka leader sacks minister who criticized farm policy and rising food prices

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa sacked a government minister on Tuesday after he criticized a now-abandoned government decision to ban chemical fertilizers.

Rajapaksa’s office said State Minister of Education Reforms and Open Universities Susil Premajayantha was dismissed with immediate effect. It did not give a reason for his removal.

Premajayanta was not immediately available for comment. However, he said on local television stations that he believed his dismissal was the result of his recent comments about government agricultural policy and rising food prices.

On Sunday, Premajayantha was shown on television buying food at a vegetable market and criticizing the government’s prohibition of chemical fertilizers and rising vegetable prices.

There has been a growing public outcry over sharply higher rice and vegetable prices resulting from shortages in food production as farmers complain that they have no proper fertilizer.

The government imposed a ban on chemical fertilizers in May, but lifted it after widespread criticism in November. Farmers say they still have not received chemical fertilizers.

Many analysts say the ban was chiefly an effort to preserve Sri Lanka’s scarce foreign reserves. The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the tourism industry, one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency.

Opposition parties and farmers have been holding near-daily protests for many months, condemning the chemical fertilizer ban and criticizing the government for failing to control the rising cost of living.

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