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Sri Lankans call for ‘action, not debate’ as new PM prepares to address nation on cost of living crisis

Sri Lankans are experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis: gas prices have tripled since last September and food has doubled in the last few months.

By Nicole Johnstone, news correspondent, in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, is expected to give his first address to the nation on Monday after being appointed last week.

A new cabinet is still being formed after all 26 members resigned along with the former prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa is still president.

The country’s economic and political crisis shows no sign of abating. Anti-government demonstrators, who have maintained a protest camp in Colombo, are calling on the president to resign.

The demonstrators are fed up with the country’s cost of living crisis. Long queues of people line up for gas and petrol and there is a shortage of most basic supplies.

At one gas shortage protest in the capital, a woman told Sky News: “I am a mother, I have one child and I can’t give them anything.”

One man called on the government to find a solution. “We need action, not debate, and we don’t need words,” he said.

Sri Lankans are experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis. Gas prices have tripled since last September and food has doubled in the last few months.

Chamali Jayamali is struggling to survive on two dollars a day – her family used to earn three dollars a day but her disabled husband’s job making paper bags at home has taken a hit because there’s a severe paper shortage in the country.

Chamali feels like she can’t get a break. With five people in the family to feed and a grandchild on the way she no longer buys chicken or fish because they’re too expensive. Instead, she cooks a vegetable curry once a day with kerosene.

Her daily cleaning salary is “useless”, she says, as she has to spend half of it paying for kerosene.

“All we have to say [to the government] is please give us some help,” Chamali says. “If not, resign and appoint someone who can do this.”

Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed as Sri Lanka's new prime minister
Image: Ranil Wickremesinghe has been appointed as Sri Lanka’s new prime minister
Chamali Jayamali is struggling to survive on two dollars a day
Image: Chamali Jayamali is struggling to survive on two dollars a day

The country has been hit with a perfect storm: the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and grievous economic mismanagement by the top levels of government have made the country almost bankrupt.

Sri Lanka has less than $50m (£41m) in foreign reserves and has more than $30bn (£24.5bn) of foreign debt.

In 2019, the government cut tax levels by 50% and two years later it banned chemical fertiliser overnight, drastically reducing agricultural production.

The decisions stunned economists and contributed to the country’s financial crisis.

Sri Lankans are experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis
Image: Sri Lankans are experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis

This week saw violence break out between pro and anti government forces, a night time curfew was imposed and the military patrolled the streets.

Now the country is waiting for new government ministers to be appointed and the government to stabilise.

But it’s unclear whether that will be enough to get protesters off the streets.

Sky News

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