COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Businesses were closed, teachers absent and public transportation interrupted in the Sri Lankan capital Thursday as people heeded a call for a general strike to pressure the president to step down over a growing economic and political crisis.
Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy with huge foreign debts and a shortage of foreign currency, causing shortages of imported essential goods like fuel and food.
Protesters who have crowded the streets since March 31 hold President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his powerful family responsible. Government officials have blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic for the crisis and say they have been discussing rescue plans and loan repayment with the International Monetary Fund, Chinese officials and others.
Business districts in the capital, Colombo, were closed during the strike Thursday. Doctors and nurses have said they will support the strike with demonstrations during their lunch break.
Sri Lanka earlier suspended repayment on its foreign debts, $7 billion of which was due this year.
It has foreign reserves of less than $1 billion, depleting available foreign currency. The resulting shortages of imported essentials like fuel, cooking gas, medicine and milk left people standing in lines for hours to buy limited stock.
The whole Cabinet except the president and prime minister resigned in early April, and the president invited opposition parties for a unity government. But opposition parties refused to be part of a government headed by the Rajapaksas.
Their family have dominated nearly every aspect of life in Sri Lanka for most of the last 20 years.
The opposition is divided and weak and has been unable to show a majority and take control of Parliament.